UEFA.com's team of reporters and correspondents provide you with build-up to this evening's UEFA Champions League round of 16 first legs and reaction from last night's games.
All times CET.
Wednesday 19.30, UEFA.com newsdesk
The UEFA.com MatchCentre is now open where live updates will continue – this feed will return on Monday for the second set of last-16 deciders.
Wednesday 18.52, Andrew Haslam at the GSP Stadium
From our perch here at the top of the stand, the area behind the goal far below to our right is steadily filling with APOEL fans. Virtually everyone seems to be wearing an orange shirt, they are in good voice already and they have a drummer to keep the tempo. This is shaping up to be a special atmosphere − will the home favourites rise to the occasion?
Wednesday 18.14, Andrew Haslam at the GSP Stadium
It has been raining again here in Nicosia, although it seems nothing can dampen the spirits of the APOEL fans already at the GSP Stadium. A large contingent of home supporters have gathered outside the venue and, even from the UEFA.com vantage point at the very top of the main stand, we can clearly here their chants and songs. It is sure to be an intimidating atmosphere for Lyon at this compact ground.
Wednesday 17.25, Andrew Haslam in Nicosia
The atmosphere is certainly building here in Cyprus; we've just driven past the headquarters of the APOEL fans and there are plenty of people both in and around the place, most wearing club colours. Several cars have also gone past in the last few minutes with horns blaring and APOEL flags flying proudly from the windows.
Wednesday 16.50, Andrew Haslam, Nicosia
Our driver has dropped us at the hotel, although he is predicting difficulties later on should the home team prevail. "If APOEL get through, don't expect to be able to get back to the hotel," he says. "There will be so many people out on the streets celebrating you won't be able to get through. If APOEL win, there'll be fireworks in Nicosia tonight!"
Wednesday 16.20, Andrew Haslam en route to Nicosia
I've just landed at a packed Larnaca airport, although that is apparently more to do with a few delayed flights than the match. There is a sizeable French contingent in the airport, although no sign of any Lyon fans just yet.
Travelling to Nicosia with former Newcastle United FC and Fulham FC defender Philippe Albert, here to cover the game for Belgian TV. "Lyon should win as they have much more experience," he says. "In this competition, though, you always get surprises. No one would have thought Manchester United and Manchester City would go out in the group stage."
Wednesday 15.39, UEFA.com newsdesk
The UEFA Europa League round of 16 features some major footballing names, and two of them – Sporting Clube de Portugal’s Emiliano Insúa and Manchester City FC’s Samir Nasri – spoke to UEFA.com ahead of their meeting on Thursday night.
Some of the clubs involved will be less familiar to fans of the UEFA Champions League, but it is worth checking out Ukrainian contenders FC Metalist Kharkiv, who boast a raft of exciting South American players and are the competition’s top scorers. Midfielder Edmar spoke to UEFA.com earlier this week.
Wednesday 14.45, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
Some Leverkusen fans are taking the sun in the plaza nearest to your correspondent's apartment. Thomas is their unofficial spokesman.
Question: What is your prediction for tonight's score?
Answer: 3-0 ... to Bayer! (cheering)
Question: Are you sure?
Answer: No, NOT sure at all (lots of laughter)
All good fun
Wednesday 13.23, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
There is always a healthy degree of sporting tension around a UEFA Champions League tie which puts the winners in the quarter-final, but there was a dose of good humour at Camp Nou yesterday. Josep Guardiola is used to being questioned about whether or not he will renew his FC Barcelona contract (it ends this summer) but when asked whether Chelsea FC had been in touch with him about his future, the Catalan joked, with a mischievous twinkle: "Yes, I talk to them every day."
Then Leverkusen striker Stefan Kiessling admitted that the competition to get hold of Lionel Messi’s shirt after the first leg had been extraordinarily fierce between him, Michal Kadlec and Manuel Friedrich. The jersey was eventually auctioned for charity and raised €11,000. "This time I’m going to phone Messi before the game and make him promise to give his shirt to me," said Kiessling.
Wednesday 13.14, Steffen Potter, UEFA.com German newdesk
Coach Robin Dutt feels Leverkusen's 2-0 win against Bayern at the weekend was a watershed result for his side. "I thought that now, maybe, you could see the results of our good work. In the first half of the season we had problems with the atmosphere within the team. They are over now."
While they have little chance of reaching the quarter-finals, the hope is that Leverkusen can kick on from tonight's game in Barcelona to claim a place in next season's UEFA Champions League. They are fifth in the Bundesliga, four points shy of FC Schalke 04 in the fourth and final UEFA Champions League place.
"If we go out, that would be a pity," said forward André Schürrle. "But then we have the chance to concentrate totally on the Bundesliga."
Wednesday 12.12, John Leonidou in Nicosia
APOEL chairman Fivos Erotokritou was in hospitable mood on Tuesday night, treating Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas and other club officials to a fish meze at a Nicosia tavern. The two club bosses exchanged gifts and shared jokes during a friendly encounter. That mood is set to be in stark contrast to what awaits the Lyon players when they walk onto the GSP Stadium pitch in front of over 22,000 home fans.
Meanwhile there was some good news for APOEL coach Ivan Jovanović as forward Ivan Tričkovski completed a training session without any problems. The Serbian boss will decide later today if the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia striker – who has missed the last few training sessions with a back injury - makes the final cut for his 18-man squad.
Wednesday 12.08, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
If Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt needs positive signs then perhaps he will plot his side's approach to the game slightly differently in the knowledge that both Éric Abidal and Carles Puyol are absent with minor injuries. Their experience and pace are often vital given Barça's desire to play high up the pitch and it is a fact that every defeat in a competitive match last season coincided with Puyol's absence from the team.
Wednesday 12.00, John Leonidou from Nicosia
APOEL's Brazilian striker Aílton hopes he and his team-mates will break new ground for Cypriot football tonight by eliminating Lyon in front of an expected capacity crowd in Nicosia. "We have a great challenge in front of us," he said. "I believe this game against Lyon is the biggest one in the club's history and I hope that we can continue our good form in the Champions League."
Despite struggling for goals in the domestic league, Aílton registered three times in the group stage, having hit another four in qualifying. "We will give everything to win the game," he said. "I hope we can make some more history."
Wednesday 11.54, Pedro Gonçalves, UEFA.com Portuguese newsdesk
"This is the European Benfica," wrote A Bola after the Eagles reached last eight for the first time since 2006 with a 2-0 win against Zenit, adding: "After four games without a win, the Reds fought hard and fully deserved victory."
Record branded Nélson Oliveira, the scorer of Benfica's second goal, "Hurricane Nélson", explaining: "The young striker only needed 13 minutes to make history: coming on for his debut in Europe and scoring." Jorge Jesus, it adds, has now led Benfica for a record 40 European games, surpassing Sven-Göran Eriksson's total.
O Jogo singled out its favourite moment of the game, writing: "Six or seven minutes from time, after chasing the ball into touch on the flank, Luisão turned to the crowd with his fists raise, celebrating even before the game was over to inspire an eruption of emotion from the stands. Everyone realised that the team had come out of the shadow cast by their last four matches."
Wednesday 11.44, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
The bad news for Leverkusen is that Lionel Messi is likely to return to the Barcelona starting XI after a one-match domestic suspension. The Argentinian phenomenon has nine goals in his last four club and country appearances (including one at the BayArena). If stats are your thing then dig this: the reigning UEFA Champions League top scorer has seven goals in six tournament appearances this season, 28 in 24 in La Liga and his all time UEFA competition scoring record is 45 in 66 games.
Wednesday 11.31, Paul Bryan, UEFA.com Spanish newsdesk
Spanish daily El País echo the sentiments of Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola this morning, warning the UEFA Champions League holders to err on the side of caution at Camp Nou, where they hold a 3-1 lead over Bayer Leverkusen from the first leg. "This evening's game will demand the maximum of attention from the Azulgrana who cannot dismiss their German rivals," the newspaper explains. "A 2-0 victory against Bayern at the weekend has only served to further feed the expectations of Barça's opponents who have shown they are capable of very surprising results in their domestic league."
Wednesday 11.18, Eugene Ravdin, UEFA.com Russian newsdesk
Zenit's 2-0 defeat at Benfica came as a disappointment for Sovetski Sport, which concluded: "It is obvious that our clubs lack experience in this competition; this level of football, these emotions, this kind of tempo, these kinds of atmospheres. Our teams still treat the Champions League as something special, something extraordinary in the world of football, while for top clubs, these matches are familiar if not quite commonplace.
"Still, the progress Zenit have made is clear," it adds, harking back to two less successful campaigns. "This time, Luciano Spalletti's charges made it to the knockout rounds, and it seems that the coaching staff will learn some important lessons from this experience. It seems likely that the club will have an intensified burst of transfer activity with the next Champions League season and new goals in mind. See you soon, Zenit!"
Wednesday 11.03, Paolo Menicucci, UEFA.com Italian newsdesk
Three of Italy's sports newspapers lead with an identical headline this morning: "Milan, what a fright." Gazzetta dello Sport writes: "The Rossoneri made several mistakes. Only [Mark] Van Bommel made the difference holding firm in midfield despite an early booking." The pink newspaper also questioned coach Massimiliano Allegri's decision not to use the experienced Gianluca Zambrotta at left-back when Milan were struggling, concluding: "It will be a good lesson also for the domestic league where Milan cannot afford to give anything away."
Wednesday 10.57, UEFA.com newsdesk
There are a number of ways to win great prizes with UEFA.com, including Player Rater, Classics and our photo poll. Today will also see plenty of activity in our UEFA Europa League section, with pieces planned for all eight of Thursday's ties. This might also be a good day to think about your UEFA Europa League Fantasy Football team.
Wednesday 10.47, John Leonidou from Nicosia
APOEL midfielder Nuno Morais has made a special appeal to the club's fans saying that his team "needs them" ahead of their tie against Lyon in Nicosia tonight.
Addressing the camera during a video interview on the club's official website, the 28-year-old former Chelsea player said: "We have a big game in front of us and we need you all to come and support like you always do. I hope we can have a great night together on Wednesday. We hope we will have another great occasion to add to the special nights we have had in Europe this season."
Wednesday 10.25, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
If the UEFA Champions League holders can organise their play as well as they organise the weather, then fans at the Camp Nou are in for a treat tonight. Just 48 hours ago it was blowing a gale and the grey sky was leaking rain; matchday dawns with a cloudless, azure-blue sky and although it is a bit nippy in the shade, the late winter sun is blazing down.
Wednesday 10.20, Andrew Haslam en route to Nicosia
The usual smattering of football shirts in evidence at Heathrow Airport early this morning (Chelsea FC, Manchester United FC and Brazil) while there are two supporters on my flight to Nicosia sporting Arsenal tops.
APOEL face a daunting task as they look for their first win against French opponents. The Cypriot champions have not even scored in their three previous outings against Ligue 1 opponents; last month’s 1-0 defeat in Lyon was preceded by home (0-1) and away (2-0) losses to Paris Saint-Germain FC in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup first round. Ominously, Ivan Jovanović’s side have scored fewer goals (six), had fewer shots wide (ten) and on goal (18) and won fewer corners (21) than any side still involved.
Monday 10.00, UEFA.com newsdesk
Still reeling from the drama of the Gunners’ near miss against Milan, the Telegraph writes: "When the Arsenal historians come to write up this season, this tie could serve as the perfect summation: rubbish one minute, world beaters the next." Arsène Wenger said before the match that he felt his side could turn around a 4-0 deficit, and they came close, with the paper adding: "At times he has sounded like the member of a religious cult, convinced of a fundamental truth no one else could see. But here his players showed that he was right all along. Ultimately it was not enough, but Arsenal really do have character to spare."
The Mail agreed: "Once again they gave us our money’s worth. Don’t they always? Once again they raised our heartbeats to a gallop. This time, though, Arsenal failed. Just." All the talk in England is of the shot Robin van Persie attempted to lift over Christian Abbiati after the break. "Should Van Persie — the most cultured of footballers — just have put his foot hard through the back of the ball?" asks the Mail. "Probably."
Wednesday 09.55, John Leonidou from Nicosia
There is an air of optimism around Nicosia that Ivan Jovanović's APOEL side will deliver another magical night for Cypriot football when Lyon visit. "We believe in the Legend [APOEL's nickname]," says the headline on Goal newspaper, with the paper adding: "APOEL play yet another historic game against Lyon tonight in front of over 22,000 die-hard fans all dreaming of qualification."
Sport Day's front cover screams: "Make our day!" It adds: "Carrying the hopes of Cyprus and all of the Greek-speaking world, APOEL will aim to repeat what they have already done to København, Wisła, Zenit and Porto." Politis is in similarly tub-thumping mood, writing: "Jovanović's boys are ready for anything and all of Cyprus is behind them."
Wednesday 09.48, Steffen Potter, UEFA.com German newsdesk
Leverkusen look to be chasing a lost cause, trailing 3-1 as they head to Camp Nou, but Der Westen has liked the look of Robin Dutt's side in recent weeks. "It took some time for Dutt and Bayer to get used to each other, but going into the return leg in the Champions League, everything is OK under the big Bayer cross in Leverkusen," it writes.
The paper gives the coach credit for pulling his side together following a dire first half at home against Barcelona, "winning the fans' respect" in the process. Saturday's 2-0 win against FC Bayern München also featured a half-time transformation. "Courage: that's what they ask of the coach in Leverkusen," Der Westen adds. "For the first time, team and coach seem to be working as a unit."
Sporting director Rudi Völler, however, knows that miracles are unlikely at Camp Nou. "We will try to be a worthy opponent and to give them a game," he said. "But it is almost impossible to turn this around against the best side in the world."
Wednesday 09.40, Christian Châtelet, UEFA.com French newsdesk
Local newspaper Le Progrès has advice for Lyon as they head for Cyprus, looking to maintain a 1-0 lead in their round of 16 decider in the wake of a disappointing 2-0 defeat against AS Nancy-Lorraine in Ligue 1. "OL have a chance to reach the UEFA Champions League last eight for the fifth time," it writes. "But hard work is required if they are to erase the miserable feeling left by the league game at Nancy."
Monday 09.30, UEFA.com newsdesk
Tomáš Rosický was despairing as he told UEFA.com how close Arsenal came to pulling off the biggest comeback in UEFA Champions League history against Milan, with Urby Emanuelson relieved to make it to the quarter-finals despite a 3-0 loss in London.
Trailing 3-2 from the first leg, Benfica progressed comfortably enough with a 2-0 home win against Zenit. Goalkeeper Artur now thinks the Eagles can go even further, while Zenit defender Bruno Alves expects the Russian champions to come back stronger next season.
We will bring you more reaction in due course, as well as building up to this evening, when APOEL look to overturn a 1-0 deficit at home to Lyon and Barcelona protect a 3-1 advantage against Leverkusen.
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