Friday morning's UEFA Champions League draw brought good news for some teams and not-so-good news for others. Bayern Munich will host (and probably smack) a pretty decent Benfica side, Real Madrid get a golden chance at another semifinal appearance if it can best Wolfsburg over 180 minutes. Even Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain can both reasonably dream of the semifinals in a battle of oil-rich clubs.
Just after we got done saying "Nunca dejes de creer" - "never stop believing" - Atlético Madrid's belief will be put to the ultimate test in the quarterfinals next month. UEFA revealed that Atlético would face Barcelona, the best and scariest team in Europe, reigning treble winners and proud owners of the best front three in football's modern era.
- Is this someone getting revenge for not scoring over 210 minutes against PSV?
- The one team I did not want to see, and many Atleti fans did not want to see, is the one team Atleti will get. Not Bayern, not PSG, not City - all of which would have been fantastic, fascinating ties with juicy storylines - but Barcelona. Love you, UEFA. Let me know when Florentino's check bounces.
- Diego Simeone is going to have to find a way to get one over on Luis Enrique. Hasn't figured out the formula yet (although, to be fair, neither has anybody else). Six games, six losses. He has come closer this year - two tightly-contested 2-1 games in La Liga - but close will not cut it, obviously.
- The first leg will be at Camp Nou on April 5, the second leg at the Vicente Calderón April 13. Away goals don't matter in La Liga, but who knows, might matter here. Atleti have conceded just three times in the past 14 Champions League home games. I'm trying to be positive here, I am.
- Barcelona do have a Clásico at home three days before the first leg, while Atlético host Real Betis that Saturday. Will they be tired? Probably not, that Clásico might be a training session. But what if it's not? I'm just asking questions.
- Third year in a row Atleti get a Spanish side in the quarterfinals. Two years ago, Koke's goal early in the second leg secured progression to the semifinals against a very different Barça. Last year, Arda Turan handed Real Madrid a spot in the semifinals by getting sent off at the Bernabéu. (You will never convince me that that red card did not hasten his departure from the club.)
- Oh, hey, speaking of, we will see Turan again in this tie! Would make victory (*unlikely* victory, but victory nonetheless) even more satisfying.
Look, this is the toughest opponent out there, and Atleti will face long odds to progress further than this stage. This is a club that likes to do things the hard way and conventional wisdom states/will state that this is just too hard a challenge. But that won't stop this team, which nearly scraped a draw when reduced to nine men at Camp Nou on Jan. 30. We'll see. Lots of football to be played in the run-in to April 5. Never stop believing...although the belief may wear thin here.