Lagos (AP) – Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi, Neymar – Lisbon will be the soccer stars’ podium for twelve days starting Wednesday. For the first time, the winner of the Champions League will be determined in a tournament due to the corona pandemic.
The format is a Club World Cup with knockout matches in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final on August 23 at the Estádio da Luz. “It will probably be the most exciting Champions League ever for spectators,” Bayern boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said, although the “Final 8” at the Benfica and Sporting Lisbon stadiums will have to be played out without supporters. Fans can only applaud in front of the televisions.
There is also a strong German note in the Portuguese capital, for example with FC Bayern and RB Leipzig. Three German coaches – Hansi Flick from Bayern, Julian Nagelsmann from Leipzig and Thomas Tuchel from Paris Saint-Germain – are fighting for the European football crown.
The German news agency examines the quarter-final pairs and focuses on one protagonist per team.
Atalanta Bergamo – Paris Saint-Germain (Wednesday, Estádio da Luz):
ROBIN GOSENS: In the opening game of the first class tournament, Joachim Löw should be watching a player with special attention. Bergamo full-back Robin Gosens finally wanted to invite the national coach to international matches for the first time in March against Spain and Italy. Then the coronavirus came along and thwarted Löw’s plan. In Bergamo, Gosens, 26, experienced the pandemic in a particularly disastrous form. With the surprise quarter-finalist Atalanta, he ended his best sporting season. The man from the Bas-Rhin is now wanted throughout Europe. He would also like the Bundesliga: besides, his favorite club is Schalke 04.
NEYMAR: In Lisbon, the most expensive footballer in the world in the PSG jersey will also deliver internationally. Neymar won the Champions League with FC Barcelona in 2015. With Paris, on the other hand, there was still nothing to celebrate with him in Europe. In 2017, the 28-year-old joined PSG for the insane transfer fee of € 222m. The football diva’s contract runs until 2022. “I’m in the best shape since I’ve been in Paris,” Neymar said. Coach Thomas Tuchel would be happy, especially since there is a question mark behind offensive star Kylian Mbappé. The world champion injured his ankle in the final of the Coupe de France. The 21-year-old could be a tournament wildcard.
RB Leipzig – Atlético Madrid (Thursday, Estádio José Alvalade):
EMIL FORSBERG: Who can play the lead role of Timo Werner? This is the question asked by the newcomer in the quarterfinals. The international had scored 34 goals in 45 competitive games. In Lisbon, he misses RB for the first time after his move to Chelsea. The situation up front is uncertain after injuries to Yussuf Poulsen and Patrik Schick. Behind this, however, an old friend got back to the point. The Swede Emil Forsberg plays a central role in the concept of coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 28-year-old has currently stopped flirting with a change. And he is the man of great moments. In 2016 he shot RB in the 2-0 at Karlsruhe in the Bundesliga, in 2017 he scored the first goal against Monaco in the premier class. Is he now leading the Leipzigers to a great triumph?
JOAO FELIX: Cristiano Ronaldo is absent as a local hero in Lisbon, the Portuguese megastar missed the home show with Juve. His young compatriot Joao Felix is stepping into the limelight even more, although the 20-year-old did not make a splash in his first year at Atlético. Portugal’s offensive jewel moved from Benfica Lisbon to Madrid a year ago for € 126million. There, the child prodigy was supposed to make forget the world champion Antonine Griezmann. He was authorized to take back jersey number 7 from the French. His flashes of inspiration on the ground are still rare. He had a dream day in 2019 against a German club: in the quarter-finals, Joao Felix in the Benfica shirt scored three goals in a 4-2 win against Eintracht Frankfurt.
FC Barcelona – FC Bayern Munich (Friday, Estádio da Luz):
LIONEL MESSI: Of course, everything at FC Barcelona always revolves around Lionel Messi. The 33-year-old Argentinian has held the grip pot four times – the last time in 2015. Just in time for the massive duel with Bayern, the world footballer is in top form. When he reached the quarter-finals against Napoli, he dribbled halfway through the stunned Napoli defense with his goal to carry it 2-0 and circled the ball as it fell to the far corner. It was Messi’s 115th goal in the premier class. “Everything is possible with this Messi,” the “Sport” newspaper said. In Munich’s 2015 semi-final knockout, it was also Messi who beat national goalkeeper Manuel Neuer twice in the 3-0 first leg win at Barcelona.
ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI: In the seventh year of Bavaria, the Pole is in the form of his life. 53 goals in 44 competitive games is a good rate. The priority for the striker, who turns 32 two days before the final, is the triple with the team. But for him, it is also a triple personal: he was already the top scorer of the winning titles in the Bundesliga (34) and DFB-Pokal (6). The center forward leads the Champions League list of shooters with 13 goals. Even Cristiano Ronaldo’s competition record (17 goals in the 2013/14 season) is close at hand, although this Corona season the quarter-finals and semi-finals will only be played in one game. “It’s not a goal,” Lewandowski says. Of course, the goal machine will secretly aim for the double triple.
Manchester City – Olympique Lyon (Saturday, Estádio José Alvalade):
PEP GUARDIOLA: If not now, then when? It’s not like Pep Guardiola hasn’t won the Champions League as a coach. But the triumphs with FC Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 are long gone. The 49-year-old Catalan has failed three times in a row with FC Bayern in the semi-finals, three times so far, ended prematurely with Manchester City. The 2018 and 2019 England league titles are not what club owners in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are pumping endless sums into the squad. After the round of 16 success against Real Madrid, Guardiola now wants to strike in Lisbon – Bayern or Barca of all places are hiding along the way.
MEMPHIS DEPAY: The Netherlands international has made sure great Cristiano Ronaldo has to do without his home appearance in Portugal. Depay scored the decisive away goal for Olympique de Lyon in a 2-1 loss to Lyon in the second leg of the second leg at Juventus Turin. Two goals from Ronaldo weren’t enough to enter the tournament. The 26-year-old Olympique captain is back in shape after a cruciate ligament rupture in December 2019. Depay’s future is uncertain. His contract at Lyon expires in 2021. More recently, the winger was linked with Borussia Dortmund as a possible replacement for Jadon Sancho. The 20-year-old is courted by Manchester United. From there, Depay moved to the Olympique in France in 2017.