The Champions League group stage is over for another season after last night’s matches. With 16 teams entering Friday’s draw for the knockout rounds, who are the winners and losers – and who are the best bets to lift the trophy in Cardiff in May?
Sixteen places – six countries
Teams from 17 countries were in the mix for the group stages this season, but just six countries are represented in the group stages. The strength of the big European leagues showed through again, with all four Spanish teams making it through to the last 16 along with three each from England and Germany. Serie A and La Liga both saw two teams into the knockout phases along with Portugal, with Benfica and Porto making it through.
There were very few surprises in the Champions League group stages, with the bookies favourites winning most groups. Of the 16 teams who have made it through, only Leicester City of the Premier League are in their debut Champions League season.
The best of the rest
Legia Warsaw probably had the craziest of campaigns in the Group stages. A famous comeback victory over Real Madrid was denied them as they conceded a late goal to draw 3-3. They were then involved in the highest scoring Champions League match, losing 8-4 to Borussia Dortmund. However, they finished their campaign beating Sporting Lisbon 1-0 to record their first Champions League victory in 21 years and earn a spot in the Europa League round of 32.
Besiktas were humbled 6-0 by Dynamo Kyiv in their final match to bow out of European competition for the season – even goalkeeper Fabricio was moved to tears after conceding four goals in the first half. It would be easy to imagine Besiktas fans protesting against their players when they returned to Turkey from Ukraine – but that was not the case. Fans waited at the airport til 4am to cheer their team on their return home.
Favourites for the Title
Barcelona remain favourites for the Champions League at 4.00 ahead of Friday’s draw, with Bayern Munich just behind at 4.50. Surprisingly given their Premier League form Leicester are only at 51.00 to continue their fairytale story while FC Porto who thrashed them 5-0 in their final group stage game are rank outsiders at 101.00.