International Soccer
 
              === Milan, Napoli can make statement for Serie A ===
 
 By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
 
 (Sports Network) - Italy will lose one of its four Champions League spots next
 season, as Germany's Bundesliga claimed an extra place based on UEFA rankings,
 but AC Milan and Napoli were handed the opportunity Friday to boost Serie A.
 
 AC Milan and Napoli both finished second in their groups, behind two favorites
 for the Champions League title, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, respectively. And
 the draw put the Italians against the remaining English clubs in the last 16.
 
 Milan will play Arsenal in the first knockout stage, and Napoli plays Chelsea.
 Add in the fact 2010 European champion Inter Milan also advanced, giving Serie
 A the most clubs of any league in the last 16, and the trio could shake up the
 tournament this season.
 
 Although  eliminating Arsenal and Chelsea would not reclaim the lost berth, it
 would be impressive if Serie A places three clubs in the quarterfinals, and at
 the expense of England having none.
 
 With both Manchester City and Manchester United eliminated at the group stage,
 England's Champions League season could be over early next year. For Italy, it
 would mean putting multiple squads in the final eight for the first time since
 2006-07, and three for the first time since 2005-06.
 
 Although AC Milan (2007) and Inter (2010) have won European titles, the league
 has otherwise struggled on the world's biggest club stage. That is a huge part
 of why Serie A lost  one of its CL  spots, and a part of the reason that Milan
 and Napoli need to break the recent jinx.
 
 For the record, Germany has not fared much better in the Champions League over
 recent years, as  it has not placed two clubs in the quarterfinals in the same
 season since the knockout stage was expanded to 16 teams.
 
 However, Germany's teams have accumulated more points in Europe, including the
 Europa League, to claim the spot at the expense of Italy.
 
 Although  the  Italians are outsiders to  claim the championship this year, if
 all  three make  the  last eight,  Serie  A  would take  a  major step  toward
 reclaiming  some luster  off  a  recent string  of  poor  performances in  the
 Champions League.
 
 Easier said than done, of course, as it is possible all three exit in the last
 16, and leave Serie A's hopes of reclaiming the lost berth a distant dream.
 
 
 Bayern Munich vs. Basel
 
 Basel slayed Goliath in the  group stage, eliminating Manchester United with a
 surprise 2-1 win on the final matchday, but do not expect another miracle from
 David at this stage. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid trump Bayern's talent, and
 with the final in Munich, this series should actually provide a rest after the
 German giants conquered the "Group of Death."
 
 Winner: Bayern Munich
 
 
 Inter Milan vs. Marseille
 
 Inter Milan was in poor form early this season in Serie A, but it has won four
 of  its last five  to surge into the top half of the league. And in Europe, it
 had  no problem, as it cruised to first place in its group. If Wesley Sneijder
 is healthy early next year, Inter will be dangerous. Marseille has also been a
 Jekyll  and Hyde club  with its domestic form weak, but this matchup in Europe
 will be tough.
 
 Winner: Inter Milan
 
 
 Benfica vs. Zenit
 
 Benfica is back in the knockout stage for the first time since 2005-06, when a
 win over reigning European champion Liverpool in the last 16 helped it advance
 to the quarterfinals. Playing a Russian side at this stage is not an easy job,
 but if Benfica is going to make the most of this knockout appearance, the draw
 could not have gone much better.
 
 Winner: Benfica
 
 
 Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow
 
 Real Madrid ended its run of last 16 exits last season and CSKA Moscow will be
 nothing more than a speed bump for Jose Mourinho's club at this stage. Playing
 in Russia will be no easy task, but Real Madrid - despite its recent defeat to
 Barcelona - is still the team with the best shot to dethrone its Spanish rival
 in the Champions League.
 
 Winner: Real Madrid
 
 
 Chelsea vs. Napoli
 
 Napoli became one of the rare pot 4 teams to escape group play (APOEL also did
 this year), and could be one of the most underrated sides in the final 16. The
 Italian side  could have benefited from an easier draw, but after besting City
 in group play, another English side could also have trouble with the Italians.
 The winner of this matchup will be dark horse the rest of the way.
 
 Winner: Napoli
 
 
 Arsenal vs. AC Milan
 
 Easily the best matchup of the first knockout round, this one truly is a toss-
 up. Arsenal, despite the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, has regained a
 bit of its old, strong form, and can never be overlooked at any stage. Milan's
 a team that doesn't scare anybody at this stage, but a team that will compete.
 Robin van Persie will be the difference in this series.
 
 Winner: Arsenal
 
 
 APOEL vs. Lyon
 
 APOEL became  the first club from Cyprus to reach the knockout stage, and with
 the draw against Lyon, further advancement is possible. Once again, the Cyprus
 side will be the underdog, but Lyon would be foolish to underestimate the team
 nobody gave a chance to escape group play. APOEL has the chance to make a name
 for itself here, but neither side will survive in the next round.
 
 Winner: Lyon
 
 
 Barcelona vs. Bayer Leverkusen
 
 All Barcelona  does is win, and Bayer Leverkusen will not be able to solve the
 European champions at this stage either. Leverkusen could have sneaked through
 with just about any  other draw, but even without David Villa - who suffered a
 broken leg this  week in the  Club World Cup - Barca remains the most complete
 and dangerous club in Europe.
 
 Winner: Barcelona
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 12/16 13:10:14 ET

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