Dec 10, 2008

The Wednesday Wrap: The Champions League season completes a turn

The UEFA Champions League wrapped up its group stage Wednesday with a number of largely meaningless games. The 16 teams that qualified for the knockout stage were already known before kick-off, with only the identities of a few group stage winners left to be determined. From a Premiership perspective (we're not Brits here but as former British colonial subjects we defer to the Premiership just because, well, who knows why, exactly?) the most interesting news was of course Arsenal's loss at Porto, which cost them first place in Group G. This means that instead of having a chance to draw the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Villareal or Atletico Madrid (and host the return leg in the Round of 16), Arsene Wenger's team could face Roma, Juventus, Bayern Munich or Barcelona (or if they're lucky, Panathinaikos). In other words: they're likely toast if they don't draw the Greek club.

Elsewhere Man United saved themself from abject humiliation (a loss at Aalborg and drop to second place in their group) and instead managed only slight embarrassment (a 2-2 tie that won them the group but only because Villareal lost at Celtic Park). This means United will face either Sporting Lisbon, Atletico, Lyon, Real Madrid or Inter Milan in the Round of 16. The only one of those they really need to fear is Inter, though Real could prove difficult as well (depending on how they take to their new coach, a certain Senor Ramos).

Meanwhile, check out the clubs that will join the UEFA Cup knockout stage: Zenit St. Petersburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev, Bordeaux, Werder Bremen, Aalborg, Marseille, Fiorentina. All very solid sides (except for Aalborg. They suck) who have made appearances in the Soccer Source Top 25 this season. We think the Ukranian clubs, in particular, need to be reckoned with.

Hoffenheim hooks Hildebrand

Former German international goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand has been signed by improbable Bundesliga table toppers TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the club announced Wednesday. The 29-year old was dropped by Spanish side Valencia last month where he became expendable due to the glut of goalkeepers (two of whom were for some reason signed in the summer) at Unai Emery's team. Hildebrand was once seen as the cream of Germany's talented goalkeeping crop; at the 2006 World Cup he was Juergen Klinsmann's third string netminder after Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn. In all, Hildebrand was capped seven times, though none in major tournaments (he was left off the Euro 2008 squad altogether). At Hoffenheim, he'll be reunited with Ralf Rangnick, who was his very first professional coach (at VfB Stutgart, in 1999). At 29, Hildebrand is still pretty young by goalkeeper standards. We think he has the talent to be one of the best in the game and wonder why no Premiership club made a move for him. As it is, this could turn out to be a very shrewd move by Rangnick and the upstarts from Hoffenheim. Maybe even one that wins them the Bundesliga.

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