These are the champions. Well, some of them. The English champions are no longer in it. Nor the French, or the champions of many other smaller countries. And, saddest of all, neither are the Champions of Europe - who know what they are.
So we are left here, on the sidelines of Europe's greatest club competition, regarding the tiny little players in our TV sets with envious eyes. Maybe I can reach in and just pluck Zlatan Ibrahimovic (or Ezequiel Lavezzi) out of there? Or rub Nicolas Anelka's smooth head for good luck? And get some massage oil and make it all shiny... Oh, sorry. Got carried away by nostalgia there for a minute.
So, welcome to the knockout rounds of the Champions League (2:45 P.M. EST), the first one in 10 seasons* to NOT feature beloved Chelsea Football Club. This is a sad day, so let us drown our sorrows by basking in the magnificence of Uncle Carlo, The Zlatan, El Pocho, a howitzer named Alex, and one-time object of our dreams Javier Pastore as PSG travels to Juan Mata's old home in Valencia. Or, if you prefer, drown your sorrows by following one the vanquishers of the Blues as Juventus take on Celtic Glasgow - sudden darling of the usually non-caring English media. You go, United Kingdom! Celtic will start freshly crowned African champion Efe Ambrose along with flavor of the month Victor Wanyama. And we're all familiar with Juventus and their surprise winter signing who only starts on the bench.
* Interestingly enough, in 2003-04, when the streak began, the other team to qualify from Chelsea's group was Sparta Prague ... whom the Blues play against in the Europe League on Thursday.
Or, if you prefer, catch Josh McEachran, a boy who once played 100 passes in a Champions League match but today is only set to start for Middlesborough vs. Leeds United in the Championship. 'Boro have a two point lead on 7th place Brighton and will need this win tonight to maintain their hopes of promotion.