On Tuesday and Wednesday, the biggest sports stars in the world will take the field to play the world’s most popular sport in the world’s biggest and most ambitious sports competition, and most of America won’t bat an eyelash. But for those who do care, it is time to rejoice as the first leg knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League soccer tournament are upon us. Over the next two weeks, the field of sixteen of the best club soccer teams in Europe will be whittled down to eight after eight home-and-home matchups. Here is a look at the first leg of each of the matchups, in order from least to most intriguing:
8. Malaga at Porto
Overview: Porto, the former stomping ground of Jose Mourinho, Andre Villas-Boas, Falcao and Hulk, is a remarkably consistent team despite a high rate of changeover. The Portuguese are currently sitting in a tie at the top of Portugal’s Liga, and Vítor Pereira’s men comfortably qualified for the Champions’ League knockout rounds. Porto is led by Joao Moutinho, a creative midfielder who was nearly transferred to Tottenham in January. To contrast Porto’s consistency, Malaga is perhaps the most unstable team in Europe. Only two seasons after being bought by a Qatari sheikh, the Spanish club is banned from European competitions for at least next season after failing to pay all of its players. Despite off-field issues, Malaga has ridden brilliant playmaker Isco through the most successful on-field stretch in the club’s history.