The Beckenbauer Column: Johan Cruyff, my good friend, was once-in-a-century player - Firstpost
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The Beckenbauer Column: Johan Cruyff, my good friend, was once-in-a-century player

By Franz Beckenbauer

It is really hard to try to return to business as usual after the death of my good friend Johan Cruyff. He was a once-in-a-century player, the one who invented the style of play at Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona.

I would have loved to ask him what he thought of Barca's chances in the Champions League quarter-finals against Atletico Madrid. The team from Spain's capital are known for their "destructive" style and are a difficult draw for Barcelona.

Two years ago, as the reigning Champions League title-holders, Barcelona stumbled against precisely the same opponents and in the quarter-finals.

File image of Franz Beckenbauer. Reuters

File image of Franz Beckenbauer. Reuters

Just about any club would find it problematic to hold their own against Atletico's side, one that, from a defensive posture can quickly press forward with a few quick plays. All the same, I am betting on the strength and cleverness of Barcelona. Firstly, because they are technically the best team worldwide and secondly because I believe that this time around the technical ability will prevail.

This is due to Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The trio is a strike force of such exceptional talent that has never been seen before. Neymar may at the moment be plagued by tax problems, but a technically-skilled player like him won't be taking those problems onto the pitch. Messi most recently scored for Argentina in the World Cup qualification round, as did Suarez for Uruguay. This should give them an additional boost.

I have no qualms in saying that Paris St. Germain will get the better of Manchester City. In the round of 16, Paris really impressed me with their play against Chelsea. I predict this not just based on the assurance of goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but also because Angel Di Maria, who controls the midfield alongside Mario Veratti, is getting stronger and stronger.

All-in-all, PSG are a very balanced side of good players. This is why, for me, they are one of the favourites for the Champions League title. In any event, there will be a lot of work awaiting coach Pep Guardiola at City after he leaves Bayern Munich this summer.

Real Madrid should make it through against VfL Wolfsburg. There is a possibility that the Germans, who have slid to the middle of the Bundesliga table this season, could spring a surprise. Real at the moment seem a bit unsteady and don't have much chance for the Spanish title. But when there's a lot at stake, one must continue to reckon with them.

The UEFA Champions League trophy. Reuters

The UEFA Champions League trophy. Reuters

For Bayern Munich, a win in the duel with Benfica Lisbon is by no means certain. Whoever reaches the quarter-finals is highly qualified. Still, I believe that the Bavarians will establish a clear-cut advantage in the first leg at home.

Any team who can play the way they did against Juventus in the round of 16 — scoring four goals in a short span to come back from a 0-2 deficit — are in a position to defeat any opponent.

Bayern, in the past few years, strongly counted on their two wingers, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry. These are players who are now often out of action due to injury and age. However, in contrast to last year when Munich's run was stopped in the semi-finals by Barcelona, Bayern now have two superb alternatives in Douglas Costa on the left side and Kingsley Coman on the right. It is incredible how steadily the Frenchman Coman already plays at just 19 years of age. This is a cause for hope for this Champions League season — as well as for future ones.

Courtesy: DPA

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