Cologne - Two clubs are still flying the Bundesliga flag at the quarter-final stage in Europe and, on the back of the performances that got them there, each is looking good to go all the way to the respective tournament finals in Berlin and Warsaw.
Two steps from final
With Borussia Dortmund, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Schalke 04 all falling short in the Round of 16 - the latter duo, both in Madrid, by the narrowest of margins - the onus is now on FC Bayern München to deliver the goods in the UEFA Champions League and VfL Wolfsburg to do likewise in the Europa League.
An awkward, but manageable, hurdle now stands between each of the Bundesliga's current top two and a place in the semi-finals. In the Champions League, Bayern have arguably the best Iberian peninsula assignment they could have asked for at this stage, against FC Porto. “There are more difficult opponents out there. We're FC Bayern and it goes without saying that we're looking to make the last four,” skipper Philipp Lahm confidently asserted in the wake of the draw.
Wolfsburg, fresh from dispatching one top Italian outfit in FC Internazionale Milano now have to pull off a repeat performance after coming out the pot against SSC Napoli. “There's no room for anxiety,” sporting director Klaus Allofs said of the upcoming head-to-head with the team currently fifth in Serie A, whom he rates as “without a doubt stronger than Inter.” The Wolves are at home for the first leg, on 16 April.
Healthy dose of caution
Bayern famously don't do anxiety and while Porto are accountable for one of the bitterest disappointments in the Munich club's illustrious history, beating them to become champions of Europe, that game pre-dates the Champions League era, with the northern Portuguese side having claimed the European Cup courtesy of a 2-1 victory back in 1987. On the back of making three of the last five finals, and winning the tournament in 2013, Bayern go into the latest encounter as clear favourites, further bolstered by having home advantage for the second leg.
Director of sport Matthias Sammer immediately warned against the danger of adopting “a mindset of 'Ah yeah, we'll get through that somehow.' Bayern were favourites in 1987, as well.” A healthy dose of caution seems wise, given that Porto are battle-hardened Champions League veterans and actually won it under Jose Mourinho in 2004. Their current coach, former goalkeeper Julen Lopetegui, was incidentally a teammate of Pep Guardiola at FC Barcelona in the mid-1990s. The sides' one meeting in the competition in its current format was back in 1999/2000, also at the quarter-final stage, when Bayern prevailed 3-2 on aggregate.
Going one step further?
Wolfsburg's European pedigree is fairly modest by comparison. A Europa League quarter-final berth in 2010 was the furthest they had previously progressed and now, having already matched that, they are understandably keen to enter uncharted territory at Napoli's expense. On current form they have plenty of grounds for confidence and head coach Dieter Hecking reckons as well that “beating Inter home and away in itself represents another step forward for a number of our players.” As to the Wolves' prospects of making it all the way to the May 27 final in Warsaw, Hecking said “There are some very good teams still involved, high-calibre opponents. But they know we're playing at a good level, as well.”
The fact that two clubs are still going strong at this stage will also have a knock-on effect for the Bundesliga as a whole. As of next season, Germany will overtake England in the UEFA five-year rankings for the first time since the turn of the millennium. That in turn means the Bundesliga will, for the immediate future, retain its three guaranteed group stage berths in the Champions League.