England’s big four soccer teams — Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool — are all absent for the first time in memory from England’s FA Cup semifinals. However, all four have made the quarterfinals of the Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club tournament. Liverpool, to be sure, was lucky. Inter Milan had a player ejected (probably unfairly) in both legs of the encounter, and Liverpool scored all of its goals with a one-man advantage.
Even so, the Premier League’s accomplishment is impressive. Moreover, of the other four quarterfinalists only one (Barcelona) is a European giant and two (Fenerbahce and Schalke) are minnows. Of course, minnow is a relative term in this context, and lesser clubs occasionally win the competition. Roma, neither a giant nor a minnow, is the other quarterfinalist
If an English club wins the Champions League (and the odds of this are a little better than 50 percent) it will be only the second time. Manchester United won in 1999 and Liverpool in 2005. England dominated the predecessor competition during the last half of the 1970s and first half of the 1980s, but things went downhill after English teams were banned for several years as the result of rioting by Liverpool fans in 1985.
On the surface, it might seem ironic that English clubs are doing so well in the Champions League in a year when England failed to make the European nations championship competition. The irony disappears when one realizes how few English players see playing time for the “big four” teams. Arsenal is virtually devoid of an English presence and only Manchester United is likely to start five Englishmen (plus a Welshman) in serious competition.
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