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London braces for derby drama
Trevor Huggins |
March 22, 2004 12:54 IST
London will enjoy its moment in the soccer spotlight this week when Champions League favourites Arsenal visit Chelsea in a unique quarter-final derby.
One of them will reach the semi-finals for the first time in their history after the second leg at Highbury, with the prospect of meeting either mighty Real Madrid or Monaco in the last four raising the stakes.
Holders AC Milan take on Deportivo Coruna with the winners meeting either UEFA Cup champions Porto, recent conquerors of Manchester United, or French champions Olympique Lyon.
Though all eight sides have ambitions of winning the final at Gelsenkirchen on May 26, Arsenal are the bookmakers' choice as the team most likely to live the dream.
Arsene Wenger's side have won admirers across Europe for their electrifying passing and individual skill, personified by France striker Thierry Henry.
They enjoy a commanding nine-point lead at the top of the English premier league, have an FA Cup semi-final tie with United ahead and, more importantly for Wednesday's first leg at Stamford Bridge, they have already beaten Chelsea 2-1 three times this season.
Even better for the Highbury faithful, Arsenal have not lost to their west London rivals in 16 games. Their last defeat, a 5-0 League Cup drubbing in November 1998, was suffered by a side almost entirely made up of reserves.
Another good omen for Wenger's treble-chasers is that Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, whose fear of flying rules him out of most away legs, should have no problem reaching Fulham Broadway.
Real, whose wings were clipped by last week's King's Cup final defeat by Real Zaragoza and Saturday's league reverse to Athletic Bilbao, could face more of the same from one of their own players against Monaco.
Spain striker Fernando Morientes, who won the Champions League three times with Real, has made a success of his loan spell at Monaco this season, scoring regularly in French Ligue 1 and chipping in with another five in Europe.
Monaco have been the dominant force in France virtually all season and could well trouble the likes of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Raul at the Bernabeu.
Tuesday's games give Milan the chance to build a lead at the San Siro against a Deportivo side who dumped their Serie A rivals and 2003 finalists Juventus out of the previous round.
Though Milan will be favourites, striker Filippo Inzaghi told the club's website: "It's not going to be a walk in the park...and I don't want people's concentration to drop just because we're playing a team who look beatable."
Olympique Lyon boss Paul Le Guen was anxious not to underestimate Porto, who snatched qualification in the last minute at Old Trafford.
"They may not be Real Madrid, but we're well aware of how good they are," Le Guen said.
Porto coach Jose Mourinho, who watched Lyon beat Nantes 1-0 on Saturday to go top of Ligue 1, was equally complimentary.
"They play as a real team, I like their style," he said. "Of course, we beat Manchester United but we do not forget they won at Bayern Munich in the group stage."