Previewing Africans in the Champions League semis: Who's set for the final?
Ahead of this week's Champions League semifinal second legs, KweséESPN predict which of Africa's stars will reach the June 3rd final in Cardiff.
Tuesday, May 5th: Juventus vs. AS Monaco
Monaco knew that a positive result at home in the first leg of their semifinal against Juventus was imperative if they were to reach a first final since 2004.
However, a Gonzalo Higuain double has left the Monegasques with a mountain to climb, and while Leonardo Jardim's side have form when it comes to overturning first-leg deficits, the prospect of troubling the Old Lady's watertight defence may prove one hurdle too far.
They will surely take encouragement from their second round performance against Manchester City, when they fell to a 5-3 defeat in the first leg, before tearing back into contention in front of their home fans to win 3-1.
Wideman Nabil Dirar was only introduced as a substitute in that second-leg triumph, but will surely feature on Tuesday as Jardim continues to juggle his options in an injury-hit backline.
With Malian Almamy Toure out, utility man Dirar has been deputising to great effect; he's been outstanding in the league -- starring in victories over Dijon and Toulouse -- and held his own in the first-leg defeat.
For Juve, Kwadwo Asamoah started in the draw with Torino in the Turin Derby on Saturday, but looks likely to return to the bench as Alex Sandro continues at left-back for the reigning Italian champions.
Grande Vittoria... Bravi Ragazzi pic.twitter.com/K8bnqpVB2x— Kwadwo Asamoah (@Asabob20) May 3, 2017
'Asabob' wasn't part of the matchday squad when Juve were defeated in the 2015 Champions League final, and two years on, will be desperate to make amends.
Mario Lemina made a one-minute cameo in the first leg, and can expect something similar on Tuesday, while Medhi Benatia will have to settle for a spot on the bench.
Assuming Juve reach the final, the duo will likely be reliant on injuries to their teammates in order to nab a starting berth.
Wednesday, May 6th: Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid
Any hopes Atletico Madrid had of avenging their final defeat by their city rivals last season were dimmed when Cristiano Ronaldo fired the Merengues ahead early on, and were all but extinguished completely when the forward added two more in the final 20 minutes.
Diego Simeone will surely be attempting to convince his troops that a sterling comeback is within their reach, but realistically, Atleti are rank outsiders, even if they did hit Las Palmas for five in late April.
Subsequently, Thomas Partey's hopes of featuring in a second consecutive Champions League final appear to be slim.
The Ghana international has come into his own in recent weeks as Simeone has shuffled his pack and given the 23-year-old more game time, but he didn't feature at all in the first leg.
Partey played the full 90 minutes against Eibar at right-back on Saturday, and he's likely to return to the bench in midweek, with Gabi and Saul Niguez likely to be preferred in midfield, although it's not impossible that he's selected ahead of Lucas Hernandez in defence.
The West African's strength is in coming off the bench to help Atleti see out contests and control matches late on, but he may not have much of a role to play if the Rojiblancos are still left chasing the game late on Wednesday.
Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.