RIGA - The Champion's League is heading for the penultimate stage after a thrilling bout of quarterfinals that saw several of the favorites fall by the wayside. As with last year's competition, this year is throwing up some real surprises, proving that money alone is no guarantee of success in Europe's most elite soccer competition.
Chelsea beat Bayern Munich 6-5 over two legs in a thrilling encounter and showed that Jose Mourrinho's team really is a new force to be reckoned with.
Chelsea won the home leg of the tie 4-2, playing some scintillating soccer to boot. Bayern Munich promised a "hurricane" of attacking football in the second leg, but they probably rued their choice of metaphor after Chelsea comfortably lost the game 3-2. Once again, Franck Lampard was the man of the moment, scoring three of the vital goals that helped Chelsea through to its first ever Champion's League semifinal.
Liverpool fans will still be recovering from the shock of qualifying for the semifinals after beating Juventus 2-1 on aggregate. The former rulers of European soccer are back, despite their indifferent domestic form.
Liverpool beat Juventus 2-1 in the first leg during a blistering performance led by England's midfield maestro Steven Gerrard. Juventus were clear favorites to win the game, but they didn't seem to know what hit them.
There is something about the Champion's League that just brings out the best in teams. Liverpool gave an assured performance in the second leg to hold an uninspired Juventus side to a goalless draw, setting up an all-English encounter with Chelsea on April 27.
In the all-Milan quarterfinal between Inter and AC Milan, the ugly side of soccer once again reared its stupid, ugly head. The first leg had to be temporarily suspended as flares reigned down on the pitch. Inter fans even cheered when a flare struck the Milan goalkeeper, who had to be treated for burns.
AC Milan won the first leg 2-0 thanks to goals by Jaap Stam and Andrei Shevchenko, and went on to win the second leg 1-0, courtesy of another Shevchenko goal.
In the other quarterfinal, PSV Eindhoven squeezed through to the next stage after winning 4-2 in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. The two legs had ended in a 2-2 stalemate.
The Brazilian forward Robert de Pinho fired the winning penalty past Gregory Coupet after three hours of football had failed to separate the sides. It was the first knockout match in Champion League history - apart from the 2003 final - to be decided by a shootout.
The Chelsea-Liverpool game will ensure an English team makes the final for the first time since 1999, and before that 1985. No doubt Chelsea will be the favorites, as will AC Milan in its game against PSV Eindhoven. But whoever wins, it's refreshing to see that European soccer is becoming less and less dominated by a handful of elite teams, and that self-belief, skill and a little luck can go a long way in this competition.