By JOHN BOSCHINI
Barcelona are poised to march into the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League for the fifth consecutive year as the defending champions bring a 3-1 lead over Bayer Leverkusen back to Camp Nou.
The Catalan side will be without Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Alexis Sanchez but should still possess plenty of firepower. Bayer Leverkusen will need to score at least three goals to overturn Barcelona's two-goal advantage and three away goals. This seems unlikely as Barcelona have only allowed seven goals all season at home in both La Liga and Champions League play. Bayer Leverkusen will also have to shake the image that their players are more concerned with getting Lionel Messi's shirt than beating his team.
APOEL Nicosia will try to continue their Cinderella run through the Champions League as the Cyprus champions welcome Lyon. The French side, which is struggling in Ligue 1 and now 15 points off the lead, holds a slim, 1-0 advantage. APOEL will have to lock down a defense that allowed four away goals in three games in the group stage, because an away goal by Lyon would almost certainly guarantee their spot in the quarterfinals.
Here is a closer look at Wednesday's UEFA Champions League action:
BARCELONA VS. BAYER LEVERKUSEN
TV: Fox Soccer Channel, 2:45 p.m.
FIRST LEG: A timid Bayer Leverkusen side bowed in the face of Barcelona in the early stages of their first-leg game back in February, eventually losing 3-1. Barcelona dominated the early part of the game, finally finding a breakthrough with Alexis Sanchez's goal four minutes before halftime. Leverkusen came out firing in the second half and equalized seven minutes after the restart, but Sanchez retook the lead in the 55th minute, and Messi gave Barcelona a two-goal advantage with a sliding one-timer two minutes from time.
THE LOWDOWN: Despite the injuries to some of Barcelona's key players, don't expect Bayer Leverkusen to get the needed three goals to overturn the first-leg deficit. Barcelona have scored in 27 of their last 28 European games and their 2.34 goals scored at the Camp Nou suggests they'll find the back of the net more than once. If Leverkusen are going to stand a fighting chance, an early goal will be imperative.
APOEL NICOSIA VS. LYON
TV: Fox Soccer Plus/FoxSoccer.tv, 2:45 p.m.
FIRST LEG: Alexandre Lacazette's deflected goal midway through the second half gave Lyon a 1-0 victory in a game the home side dominated. APOEL didn't register a shot until the 88th minute and are fortunate to have a fighting chance at home.
THE LOWDOWN: The sentimental fan will certainly be on the side of APOEL but the challenge of holding out against a Lyon offense that so was so thoroughly dominant in the first game will be steep. Lyon are struggling in domestic play but, as Schalke showed last season, the Champions League can offer a nice distraction from the struggles at home.
What do you think of today's games? Does Leverkusen have a chance of a shocking upset? Will Lyon hold on to their lead in a trip to Cyprus, or will APOEL's Cinderella run continue?
Share your thoughts below.