This season's UEFA Champions League Round of 16 will boast a distinctive dash of Bundesliga after four teams from Germany's top division roared into the tournament's knockout stages.
Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt will all take their place in Monday's last-16 draw (12:00 CET) at UEFA headquarters, with Bayer Leverkusen - the fifth Bundesliga team to make it to the group stages of European football's elite competition this season - safely through to a UEFA Europa League play-off.
After their spectacular, respective feats over the course of a memorable group stage, Bundesliga sides make up a quarter of the teams remaining in the competition, with only England's Premier League able to match the amount of contestants.
On Tuesday, Bayern and Eintracht got the celebrations underway. The reigning Bundesliga title holders and six-time European champions, Bayern were already guaranteed their passage through as Group C winners, but the challenge facing Julian Nagelsmann's side was to become the first team ever to qualify for the knockout rounds with a 100 per cent record for a third time. A 2-0 victory against Inter Milan ensured that.
"The Champions League is an awesome competition; we know it's special to win six out of six in such a strong group," said Bayern's current goal-getter extraordinaire, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. The Cameroon international brought his current tally to eight goals in his last nine games - and seven in the last six starts - with a rising rocket against the Nerazzurri, with Benjamin Pavard also on target in the win.
"Six wins from six: it doesn't get much better than that," Kingsley Coman added after Bayern emerged perfect from a so-called Group of Death that also contained Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen. "We are very proud, but we know we still have a lot of work to do," Coman added.
Liverpool, Club Brugge, AC Milan and PSG are the Bavarians' next possible opponents and a mouthwatering tie is guaranteed whoever is drawn to face the mighty Bayern.
And things will be just as exciting for Eintracht, who rode a rollercoaster of emotions to reach the last 16 in what is their tournament debut.
Trailing to Sporting at half time in Tuesday's group denouement, Eintracht were heading out of Europe as Group D's bottom-placed side. A dramatic 45 minutes at the Estadio Jose Alvalade and in the section's other game between Marseille and Tottenham, would turn things completely around, however. A Daichi Kamada penalty and Randal Kolo Muani's winner took Die Adler into the promised land via a second-placed finish.
"It's crazy, what the players managed to pull off and how they dealt with setbacks," Frankfurt coach Oliver Glasner said. "We’re now in the round of 16 and we absolutely deserve to be there."
"We’ve made history again today," goalkeeper Kevin Trapp added as last season's Europa League winners extended their continental celebrations. "This is such a fun team to play for. We wanted to give something back to the fans – their support is worth its weight in gold."
The Eagles' qualification is all the more worthy of praise given they lost their opening Group D game against Sporting 3-0. "This is quite simply incredible," summer arrival Mario Götze told Eintracht's website. "If you look at how we were behind at half-time [in Lisbon] and totally out of the running in fourth place, and then ended up going home with the win and making it through to the next stage – that’s amazing."
Leipzig's achievement was just as impressive. Die Roten Bullen were down and out at the start of a campaign in which they lost to Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid and with a goal column that read one for and six against.
Yet four successive wins - which included a 3-2 victory against the defending European champions Real - completed a superb revival under coach Marco Rose. Wednesday night's 4-0 win against Shakhtar in Warsaw - Leipzig's second-biggest ever victory in European competition - was a fitting end for a club that nobody will want to face in the Round of 16.
"It wasn’t a given that we’d bounce back and qualify after starting the group with two losses," captain Willi Orban said. "I’m really proud of the team."
Proud too are Leipzig's fans, who have now seen their side reach the Champions League knockouts for a third time in five seasons.
The Saxony-based side will join Dortmund in Monday's draw, with Die Schwarzgelben completing their group campaign with a 1-1 draw against Copenhagen. "It was a good group phase," Nico Schlotterbeck said after Dortmund went through behind section winners Manchester City. "Now we're looking forward to our round of 16 opponent," the defender added.
BVB lost just once [away to City] in what was a tough section that also included La Liga team Sevilla. Guaranteeing qualification with a game to spare was a noteworthy achievement for Edin Terzic's men.
"In a difficult season with a full fixture schedule, (qualifying) does wonders for our self-confidence; to have gotten through the group and reached the knockout stages," Gio Reyna told UEFA after his team's 0-0 home draw against City on Matchday 5. "We're happy that we're through. We have a really young team with a lot of energy going forward."
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Energy, commitment, style and excitement are what all of Germany's qualifiers for the Round of 16 will bring to the table when the Champions League knockout phase gets going again in February/March.
That’ll be your Tuesday/Wednesday Bundesliga fix in the new year, but there will also be three more German clubs in action on Thursday nights as they look to emulate Eintracht in lifting the Europa League.
Freiburg enjoyed an unbeaten group and were through with two games to spare after they brushed aside Nantes, Olympiacos and Qarabag to successfully navigate a UEFA group stage for the first time in their history.
“The Europa League is a big adventure,” said enigmatic coach Christian Streich as he continues to change the footballing landscape in his decade at the helm of the Black Forest club.
And the reward for the Bundesliga’s third-placed team’s table-topping efforts is a bye to the round of 16, where they will face one of the eight victorious play-off teams.
Among those eight fixtures are two more Bundesliga club in Union Berlin and Leverkusen.
Current Bundesliga leaders Union’s runner-up finish in their Europa League group offers them a potentially high-profile encounter with a team that’s dropped down from the Champions League. It’ll be one of Ajax, Barcelona, Sporting, Red Bull Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla or Juventus.
“The names are just music to our ears. We’re excited regardless of who it is,” said Sven Michel after his goal away at Union Saint-Gilloise guaranteed Die Eisernen would continue in the Europa League and not drop down to the Conference League.
While the Berliners will be seeded, Leverkusen are on the opposite side of the draw after they finished ahead of Atletico Madrid to claim third spot in their Champions League group.
Coach Xabi Alonso will no doubt be licking his lips at the prospect of facing old rivals Manchester United or Jose Mourinho’s Roma in a two-legged tie. Die Werkself could also come up against PSV Eindhoven, Rennes, Nantes, Monaco or Midtylland.
What is certain is that the Bundesliga's brightest will make for formidable opponents when the races for European football's biggest prizes recommence in the spring.
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