With all the talk of the need (or otherwise) for technology in football, there is something lovingly luddite about the way we decide which teams will play each other in cup competitions. Let's be clear: there are six-year-olds who could design and programme a computer algorithm that would pick out random names from a list. In a world oddly obsessed by putting everything on a screen (Board games! Newspapers! Cashiers at supermarkets!), you would have been forgiven for predicting, oh, ten years ago, that FA Cup draws and Champions League draws (especially Champions League draws) would be wholly digitised affairs by now, all whooshing surfaces and CGI roulette wheels.
But these draws remain proudly (and mercifully) free of such nonsense. Here is a container. Here are four plastic spheres that open if you twist them. Here are pieces of paper (paper!) with names of teams printed on them. Here's a former footballer and some other person you may have - but realistically haven't - heard of. Yes, it's still overblown. Yes, something that takes three or four minutes is dragged out over an hour. Yes, it's less exciting than the TV people seem to think it is. But still: it's one of the few things in the game that nobody has yet seen fit to modernise or revolutionise, and for that we should be thankful.
We should also be thankful that Thursday's draw kept Barcelona and Real Madrid apart in the Champions League semi-finals. With Barça drawing Bayern Munich and Jose Mourinho's side facing Borussia Dortmund, we have been spared (for now, at least) another rerun of El Clasico - the match people claim they want to see, until it actually happens.
El Clasico has afforded diminishing returns for a while now. There was a time, not so long ago, when Real v Barcelona was a relatively niche affair. Then Twitter happened. Ignore all its other functions; Twitter was invented to make El Clasico more annoying. Suddenly you're not watching a football match anymore, but sat in the middle of a live-blogged, unfunnily observed bear pit. There are El Clasico stats accounts, and accounts tweeting stats about the number of stats accounts. Thousands of people are simultaneously trying and failing to say something new about Lionel Messi. Then there are those who think that tweets in the format "x > y" are the zenith of humour. Pepe > Chuck Norris. Eboue > Ronaldo. Life > this.
Of course we don't HAVE to spend the match checking on Twitter, but we inevitably do. (That's a subject for another day, which will never arrive because I'm too busy checking Twitter.) And, y'know, some decent football does occasionally break out in between the Busquets-Pepe-Ramos Acting 101 nonsense. But, given that they've played seven times in the last 12 months alone, we should be glad of the chance to see something different.
Normally at this stage of the season we still have Premier League sides to focus on in Europe. But since Arsenal and Manchester United were eliminated we have been able to spread our love more widely and appreciate more rarified fare: Dortmund, with their breakneck interplay; PSG's nouveau riche glamour; and the riptide ruthlessness of Bayern. We've also seen games that would never have looked like Champions League knockout matches a few seasons ago: Malaga v Porto, Galatasaray v Schalke. It's been different. It's been brilliant.
And now, two more thrilling sets of fixtures. Of course, it would have been ideal had Madrid drawn Bayern (given that Real and Dortmund played twice in the group stage), but the matches still have an air of novelty about them. The final, of course, may still pit Real against Barça, but that looks far from a certainty on current form. One thing is for sure, though: the forthcoming Germany v Spain mini-series will be far more exciting to watch than two overblown, overgrown Clasicos. Vive la différence!
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