International Soccer
No contest

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The first knockout round of the Champions League only confirmed what many already believed.

That the English Premiership is the best league in the world, hands down.

If the Round of 16 was a boxing match, England would have administered a swift and brutal beating on the rest of Europe, prompting the referee to step in and save the battered continent.

It began with a jab as Arsenal slipped past Roma on penalties, while Chelsea followed with a straight right hand as they held off a Juventus revival for another season.

Next came a crunching left hook to the body as defending champions Manchester United took care of the best team that Serie A has to offer, Inter Milan.

Liverpool then finished off the job with a devastating overhand right that left Europe dazed and confused as they destroyed Real Madrid with stunning ease.

Not only do Premiership sides make up half of the quarterfinalists in Europe's premier club competition for the second straight season, but they are also likely to place at least one team in the final for the fifth straight year.

Outside of Arsenal's win over Roma, which needed eight rounds of penalty kicks to be decided, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United each proved to be clearly superior to a European heavyweight in its respective contest.

Manchester United was clearly the better team when they turned up the heat on Inter.
Chelsea's matchup with Juventus was in doubt until the last 10 minutes, but the Blues did enough to get past Juve, 3-2 on aggregate, and more impressively, got a good result on Italian soil.

United's conquest of Inter Milan completed England's sweep of Italy as the Red Devils took the game to Inter over the duration of two legs and could have won by more if not for some heroic goalkeeping by Inter's Julio Cesar in the first leg.

Inter did create some decent chances in the second leg, but United was clearly the better side when they decided to put their foot on the gas.

Liverpool's 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid was easily the most shocking result of the round.

The first leg was a sluggish 1-0 win to the Reds in Spain, and although Madrid entered the second leg with every hope of going through, they were so thoroughly dominated by Liverpool it was frightening.

"The defeat was hard on all of us," Real defender Gabriel Heinze said at a post-match press conference. "A footballer also loses a lot in defeats like this one. But when playing for this club you need to search for strength wherever you can find it.

"It's a very sad time, but all defeats are. I don't know if this is the hardest or not, but I haven't stopped to think about it."

The dejected look that Heinze wore on his face throughout the press conference spoke volumes about the damage that Liverpool inflicted on this proud club, and it would probably be a good idea for manager Juande Ramos to update his resume and start sending it out.

One of the biggest reasons for England's recent dominance in Europe is their style of play.

Liverpool simply overwhelmed Real Madrid with its constant pressure and up-tempo approach, something that has shown up in the past against non-Enlish opposition like Inter Milan last season and Barcelona before that.

Manchester United was clearly the better team when they turned up the heat on Inter, and it was only when they sat back that the Italian side found any openings.

Both La Liga and Serie A have a style of play that is different, with Serie A being a very technical league and the Spanish style producing a more wide-open attack-minded game.

Both styles have worked in the past against European opposition, but recently they have wilted under the pressure of the English style of play.

The scary part for the rest of Europe is that some of the best teams that the continent has to offer have been brushed aside by English opposition, leaving Barcelona as the only real hope to snatch the title away from England.

The only way that FC Porto or Villarreal will reach the last four is if they draw each other, while Bayern Munich might have a shot at beating Arsenal but that is about it.

Bayern does boast world-class talents in Franck Ribery and Luca Toni, but they also have a shaky goalkeeper in Michael Rensing, a sometimes leaky back line, and are inconsistent in front of goal, despite what their 12-1 aggregate drubbing of hapless Sporting Lisbon says in the last round.

Barcelona won the title in 2006 and they have a roster that is just as talented as any team in the world, but if the draw is unkind to the La Liga leaders and they draw English opposition in the next two rounds, they may not have much left for the final if they get there.

There is really no debate now as to which league is the toast of Europe, and on May 27, chances are the team celebrating a championship in Rome will be of English origin.

God save the Queen?

No, God save the rest of Europe.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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