THE Champions League is down to the semifinals – and clubs
from Europe’s four biggest soccer nations still have a shot at
the title.

For the first time since 1981, teams from Spain (Real
Madrid), England (Liverpool), Italy (Roma) and Germany
(Bayern Munich) make up the last four of Europe’s elite club

Three of them are aristocrats of the continent, with Madrid,
Bayern and Liverpool having won the competition 22 times
between them. Roma has never been European champion but
cannot be discounted after its historic comeback against
Barcelona in the quarterfinals.

Spanish representation in the semifinals has been cut to one
team for the first time since 2010. The fact that team is Real
Madrid isn’t a surprise. Seeking a record-extending 13th
European title, Madrid is in the semifinals for the eighth
straight year and is meeting Bayern at this stage for the
seventh time in the competition’s history. The most recent
was 2014, when Madrid won home and away against a team
coached by Pep Guardiola.

Now the German team is coached by Jupp Heynckes, who led
Bayern to the title in 2013 before his first retirement.
Heynckes came back in October to rescue Bayern after its
faltering start to the season led to Carlo Ancelotti’s departure
and has already said he will not be staying on beyond this
season. Heynckes led Bayern to a Champions League-
Bundesliga-German Cup treble in 2013 and is attempting to
do so again, having already won the league and reached the
final of the cup.

Bayern has been eliminated by Spanish opposition every year
since Heynckes first retired, and Madrid is the favorite
heading into the two legs. The defending champions travel to
Germany after a full week of rest and preparation since their
last match, a 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao. They
received the extra days off because their Spanish league
match against Sevilla, originally scheduled for this weekend,
was moved to next month after Sevilla reached the Copa del
Rey final played on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane should be able to count on all his first-choice
players and must decide whether to start playmaker
Francisco “Isco” Alarcon or winger Gareth Bale up front with
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema on Wednesday.
Ronaldo will be seeking to continue his incredible scoring run
after having scored in all 10 matches in the competition this
campaign for a total of 15 goals.

Bayern will be without combative midfielder Arturo Vidal
because of a knee injury.

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