The UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League have kept fans riveted – and UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino looks forward with anticipation to the knockout stages.
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The strength and diversity of European club football has been demonstrated by events in this season's UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League – with plenty of excitement still expected as the competitions enter their knockout phase.
UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said at Monday's draw ceremonies at the House of European Football in Nyon that the UEFA Champions League action in the current campaign had brought pleasure to millions of football fans, while the contrast of styles from across Europe in the UEFA Europa League reflected the success of that tournament.
Mr Infantino said the European game continues to go from strength to strength, as shown by the high quality of football on UEFA Champions League matchnights. "The group stage has provided football fans around the globe with a wealth of great action, superb moments and plenty of goals. In fact, a total of 277 goals were scored in this season's group matches [an average of almost three goals a match].
"The excitement generated by this season's group stage lasted until the final matchday. No fewer than 15 clubs were chasing the remaining eight available slots in the round of 16 – this shows the competitive nature of the UEFA Champions League, and guarantees maximum entertainment for the fans, who have been kept on the edge of their seats until the very last minute of the very last match.
"It is [very] hard to predict which teams will meet in Lisbon on 24 May for what promises to be another memorable final," Mr Infantino continued, "but we can be sure that the coming months will once again provide exciting matches full of top-class action for the pleasure of fans in the stadiums and at home all over the world."
This term, clubs from 19 different national associations have made it through to the UEFA Europa League round of 32, the UEFA General Secretary reflected, "with clubs joining us from right across the continent – from Kazan to Seville, and from Esbjerg to Tel Aviv.
"That sense of diversity and scale is one of the hallmarks of the competition: the UEFA Europa League has a geographical sweep that not even the UEFA Champions League can match. Big names from the UEFA Champions League will certainly add to the excitement as we enter the direct knockout stage in the new year.
"Given this diversity," Mr Infantino concluded, "we are looking forward to witnessing some interesting contrasts of styles and ever-growing excitement on the road to the final."