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UEFA Champions League: Madrid try to halt Cinderella, Benfica take on Chelsea

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To say it's David versus Goliath would be an understatement.

APOEL Nicosia are in the midst of one of the more remarkable Champions League runs in recent memory but the powerhouse that is Real Madrid threaten to put an emphatic end to the feel-good story. Cristiano Ronaldo and his Madrid cohorts will travel to Cyprus, a country with a fourth of the population of city of Madrid, to take on APOEL. Real Madrid have steamrolled through the competition with a plus-20 goal differential and were comfortable in their quarterfinal victory over CSKA Moscow.

APOEL have been in impressive in their run and, while they are undoubtedly the weakest team left in the competition, this might not be totally straightforward for the Spanish giants. The Cypriot champions started their Champions League qualification way back on July 13 and topped a group with Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Porto before defeating Lyon on penalty kicks.

Chelsea's best hope for qualification into next season's Champions League may come from winning this year's competition. The Blues travel to Portugal to take on Benfica in what is arguably the most even quarterfinal matchup. Benfica topped a group Manchester United were supposed to dominate before coolly dispatching Zenit St-Petersburg. This is Chelsea's seventh appearance in the quarterfinals in the past 13 years while Benfica is trying to reach the semifinals of the Champions League for the first time in over 20 years.

Here is a look ahead to both quarterfinal games.


TV: 2:45 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel

How They Got Here: After stumbling and bumbling their way through what should have been an easy group, Chelsea qualified in dramatic fashion with a comeback victory over Napoli in the quarterfinals. After a 3-1 defeat in Naples that could have been much worse, Chelsea found a spirit that had eluded them under Andres Villas-Boas. The supposed "Old Guard" finally showed up and Branislav Ivanovic scored in extra time to give the Blues a 5-4 aggregate victory.

Benfica arrived in the quarterfinals in far less dramatic fashion. The Portuguese side quietly worked their way through Group C before taking care of business at home against Zenit St Petersburg, overturning a 3-2 deficit with a 2-0 home win. 

The Lowdown: Both teams come into today's game justifiably feeling like they are the favorites. Benfica has been one of the more consistent teams in the competition while Chelsea are one of the best sides in Europe when playing up to their potential. As demonstrated in the quarterfinals, scoring an away goal is vital so whichever striker Roberto Di Matteo selects will need to be on top form. Ex-Benfica player David Luiz will anchor a Chelsea back line known for leaking goals.

Benfica will rely on striker Oscar Cardozo for their scoring punch. The Paraguay international has scored several vital goals for Benfica this season. 


TV: 2:45 p.m., (Tape delay airing at 5:00 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel)

How They Got Here: Real Madrid have yet to face anyone of real threat in their eight Champions League games but have been very impressive nonetheless. They have failed to win all but one game this campaign with a 1-1 draw in frigid Moscow being the only blip. Ronaldo has scored six goals in the competition thus far, two more than Madrid have conceded.

APOEL benefited from a relatively mediocre group and built some momentum from a lengthy qualifying campaign to even make it into the final 32. They faced a struggling Lyon side in the quarterfinals and advanced via penalty kicks. This is APOEL's 15th Champions League game of the season.

The Lowdown: Anything less than a blowout by Madrid would be a surprise. APOEL can hope to bunker down and get a fortuitous goal on the break but Madrid have shown great skill in both Europe and in La Liga in slowing breaking down compact defenses. Even a one-goal victory or a scored draw would give Madrid a nearly insurmountable lead heading back to the Bernabeu.

Even APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic says a "perfect" performance might not be enough for the Cypriot side. 


What do you think of today's games? Can APOEL pull off the shocking upset? Will Chelsea find some sort of consistency or will Benfica take care of business?

Share your thoughts below.


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