The football world shifts to Istanbul as Champions League glory beckons

Can Pep Guardiola finally break Man City’s European hoodoo? (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

This year’s Champions League has reached the business end, courtesy of some scintillating football. Thirty-two teams have been whittled to four as they battle for the most fabulous prize in European football.

The protagonists

The four teams offer a fascinating glimpse of pedigreed clubs that have fought through injury, self-doubt and expectation to have the right to be crowned Europe’s best.

Manchester City is the young upstart who has come to dominate English football and threaten global domination by winning the only elusive trophy missing from their impressive collection.

Pep Guardiola’s all-consuming quest to win the Champions League in City’s colors is well-documented. After a few near misses, this could be his year as he has a squad brimming with a galaxy of superstars, peaking at the right time — the Citizens are closing in on a realistic treble opportunity that will silence even their noisy neighbors.

Real Madrid’s love affair with the Champions League

The defending champions continue to defy the odds as an aging, yet talented, squad consistently delivers on the biggest stage when it truly matters. Their fierce domestic rivals Barcelona seem to have La Liga wrapped up as the Galacticos turn their attention toward a surreal 15th European title.

Their cup certainly runneth over and with established stars like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos passing the baton to the new generation of youngsters like Eduardo Camavinga, Rodrygo Goes and Vinicius Jr., one writes them off at their peril.

The Italian Resurrection

The sleeping giant that is Italian football seems to be finally stirring from a decade or so of slumber. Both Milan clubs have certainly defied expectations in reaching the semi-finals.

It is indeed a breath of fresh air to see the Italians at the summit of European football, in light of the best players in the world routinely choosing England and Spain over the Italian league in recent times.

However, for either Inter or AC Milan to topple the likes of Manchester City or Real Madrid, it might be a bridge too far, even for the most ardent Italian supporters. However, we love football for its unpredictability and maybe City and Madrid will be so spent from their semi-final that the formbook might be thrown out of the window.

Like Leicester City’s improbable run to the Premier League title in the 2015/2016 season, the football gods are not without a sense of humor. May the best team win.