Everyone's attention in April is usually shifted to the Champions League. And why not? This Champions League ranks among the best I've seen in some time. However, this year's quarterfinals in the Uefa Cup should be one for the history books as well. There are some fantastic matchups that will surely be full of tension and excitement. With some very underrated clubs and some great squads (with a few first place teams) this Uefa Cup is sure to be an exciting one.
FC Zenit vs Bayer Leverkusen
These two teams are considered to be relatively mediocre squads in the eyes of the majority of soccer fans, but the ones with a brain can tell you otherwise. Zenit and Leverkusen may be struggling in their respective tables right now, with Zenit in 9th place at the beginning of the Russian League season and Leverkusen in 6th in the Bundesliga, but both teams are incredibly dangerous, with numerous attacking options.
However the winner of this matchup already seems to be decided, as Zenit beat Leverkusen 4-1 in the first leg in Leverkusen. The second leg brings Zenit home, and also smothers out any hope that Leverkusen have of even coming close to Zenit. It's a sure bet Zenit move on in this one, though expect the German side to come out quick and desperate for goals for the entire 90 minutes.
But don't think Zenit have their heads in the clouds for this one. They're going to come out strong like it's a tied ballgame, according to Zenit manager Dick Advocaat, saying, "In football, nothing is guaranteed."
My Prediction: 1-1 draw. Zenit will come out calm and relaxed. They're more than happy to draw. Leverkusen, though, will enter the game in panic mode and I'm certain they'll come up with at least a tally. Not enough for the German side, however, to pass onto the semifinals.
Zenit have struggled with bigger European clubs in the past but are still a very underrated squad.
PSV vs Fiorentina
One of the most intriguing matchups of the quarterfinals, PSV and Fiorentina will duke out the second leg in Netherlands, in front of the passionate PSV crowd that last saw PSV advance in the Cup after an intense penalty shoot-out against Tottenham. PSV will have the advantage in this game, though, due to their away goal in the first leg, so a 0-0 draw would see PSV in the semifinal.
However, PSV will be missing two of their best and most influential goalscorers in midfielder Ibrahim Afellay, who was injured over the weekend, and striker Jefferson Farfan who is serving a suspension after an accumulation of yellow cards. The gaps in PSV's attack will be obvious, and PSV coach Sef Vergoosen will most likely come out with a defensive gameplan. Preventing the Italians from scoring is key for the Dutch side, so expect them to come out with a 4-5-1 lineup, with the lone striker possibly being Danny Koevermanns, a proven goalscorer for the Dutch squad.
Fiorentina consists of many young players hungry for time on the field, so expect them to come out looking for goals quickly, though their lack of experience may be a factor. All in all this matchup seems to be one of the closest out of all the quarterfinal draws.
My Prediction: PSV 2-1. PSV's home crowd may play a big factor in this game, and although they're missing two big attackers, they still come out on top. They're in better form at the moment than the Italian side are and look to be an overall better team. PSV escapes another Italian beating this time.
Heurelho Gomes, PSV's keeper, proved to be the hero that carried the Dutch club to the quarterfinals over a relentless Tottenham
Sporting vs Rangers
The first leg of this matchup resulted in a 0-0 tie, so Sporting enter the second leg with home field advantage. The matchup may look like an Old Firm derby match, with Sporting's green and white striped jerseys looking almost identical to Ranger's nemesis Glasgow Celtic's, and the competition will be just as tough as an Old Firm match.
Both sides will come out determined to continue their effort for a European trophy, but Rangers will be without defenders Charlie Adam and David Weir. These gaps in the backline may provide enough space for Yannick Djalo, Sporting's goal machine who has scored 3 goals in 4 games since his return from injury, and Sporting's other top attackers to put some distance between the two clubs. Rangers also see the return of Daniel Cousin, who will be returning from a broken jaw, who is a big addition to the Ger attack.
Rangers seem to have been on top form all season, but a 3-3 draw to Dundee United over the weekend may have drained out all the goals Rangers had in the arsenal.
My Prediction: Sporting 2-1. Should be a close contest, but Sporting will be playing at home, and with an open backline they should get on the board more easily than Rangers will. Sporting will narrowly win.
Rangers and Sporting will both come out desperate for a win, as the last time either club has won a European trophy was over 35 years ago. Rangers last won the European Cup in 1972 and Sporting in 1964.
Getafe vs Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich have breezed through their Uefa Cup Campaign as if it were a string of July friendlies. Munich looked like a definite bet to win the Cup for quite some time, and why not? They finished poorly last season in the Bundesliga in 4th place, but they improved immensely over the summer and now they're comfortably in first place in the Bundesliga, looking ready for another championship trophy. However, all this changed when they met a determined Getafe in the quarterfinals. Getafe, notorious giant killers in their own right, held Munich's world-class attack to a 1-1 draw in the Allianz Arena, and now with the second leg coming to Spain.
A lot of people outside of Getafe's clubhouse were stunned that Getafe managed to handle the German giants, who are considered to be a Champions League worthy team playing in the "lowly" Uefa Cup. Getafe sit in a less than decent 12th place in the Spanish La Liga, and salvaging the draw with a goal in extra time stunned Munich's fans.
However, I expect the Cinderella Story to end in the return leg. The 1-1 draw managed to wake up Bayern, who now realize they are not the invincible B.A's that everyone says they are, and they will pull out a victory. As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Bayern Munich will be sure to bring out every attacking option they can muster to pull out a victory over lowly Getafe. Getafe would be able to pass onto the semis with a goalless draw, but if they do muster up holding Bayern Munich to one goal in two games, I will pay everyone in the entire world $50.
My Prediction: Bayern Munich 3-0. I'm confident the first leg was a fluke and will only serve as a wake up call for the Germans, who will turn it up a notch in the second leg. No George Mason Cinderella story for Getafe this year.
Bayern have dozens of world-class goalscorers at their dosposal including Lukas Podolski (left), Frank Ribery (also pictured), Luca Toni, Miroslav Klose, and Ze Roberto.