Spanish domination to continue in Europe?
Spanish football domination could reach even greater heights in 2012. Spain, current World and European champions, are one of the favourites for Euro 2012, but it is at club level where Spanish football can really step up another gear this year.
Barcelona didn’t quite win everything in 2011, but four trophies – the Champions League, La Liga, the Spanish Super Cup and the Club World Cup – confirmed their status as the world’s best club side.
It’s difficult to see beyond Spain for the Champions League finalists this season. Assuming Barcelona can negotiate their quarter-final second leg against AC Milan, they are on course to meet – and most likely beat – Chelsea in the semis, and Real Madrid are the favourites to meet their La Liga rivals in the final.
Bayern Munich might have something to say about that, but nobody will be surprised if Barca meet the old enemy in Europe’s showpiece game.
Spain has five clubs left in Europe this season and three of them are in the Europa League quarter-finals.
We could have a double whammy of all Spanish finals, as Valencia are on course to meet Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals, with Athletic Bilbao in the other half of the draw.
Well, that WAS the plan.
Valencia have some work to do though, after a 2-1 defeat at AZ Alkmaar on Thursday night. It means they'll have to win the second leg to have a chance of progressing. Their away goal means a 1-0 second leg win would be enough.
In total there were 15 goals in the four first legs on Thursday, with all four home sides scoring two goals. That was good enough for victories for Atletico Madrid, Alkmaar and Sporting, but not for Schalke, as Athletic Bilbao scored four away goals - with Fernando Llorente (pictured) on target twice. Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain were the Spanish side's other scorers.
Europa League results and fixtures
Quarter-finals, first leg
Thursday 29th March
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Hannover 96
AZ Alkmaar 2-1 Valencia
Schalke 04 2-4 Athletic Bilbao
Sporting 2-1 Metalist Kharkiv
Quarter-finals, second leg
Thursday 5th April - all games at 20:05
Hannover 96 vs Atletico Madrid
Valencia vs AZ Alkmaar
Athletic Bilbao vs Schalke 04
Metalist Kharkiv vs Sporting
Semi-finals, first leg
Thursday 19th April - all games at 20:05
Atletico Madrid / Hannover 96 vs AZ Alkmaar / Valencia
Sporting / Metalist Kharkiv vs Schalke 04 / Athletic Bilbao
Semi-finals, second leg
Thursday 26th April - all games at 20:05
AZ Alkmaar / Valencia vs Atletico Madrid / Hannover 96
Schalke 04 / Athletic Bilbao vs Sporting / Metalist Kharkiv
National Arena, Bucharest, Romania
9th May (19:45)
By Mark Roach
Follow me on Twitter: @TotalFootballEd