Today the 2013 UEFA Champions League semifinals begin as Barcelona travel to face Bayern Munich in the first leg of their two-leg match. On the line is a trip to Wembley Stadium for the final on May 25th, 2013.
Before you read any further we'd like to let you know that this is a primer for new soccer fans and anyone who has become interested in all the Champions League hype, but isn't quite sure what it's all about. If you're a veteran soccer geek like most of us here at SB Nation Soccer, check out the rest of our coverage on today's match here.
Alright, everyone else still here? Cool, well first let me welcome you to the world of soccer. Whether you're a new fan or just a sports fan who has had their interest piqued, we're glad you're here and we hope you enjoy today's match so much that you'll be back tomorrow for Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid.
We're here to introduce you to some of the key players and hopefully allow you to feel prepared to watch and enjoy the game. If all goes well you'll be able to impress your friends with your new knowledge.
Let's start with the basics of how this semifinal will work. There will be two games with one played in each of the team's home stadium. The order of play was determined at random so thanks to the luck of the draw, the tie (just a fancy word for a two-game series) will begin in Munich at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern Munich are the home side and are the current holders of the Bundesliga (top level of German soccer) title. They are considered the greatest team in German soccer history, having won 23 league titles. Most of the greatest German players of all-time have worn their uniform at some point. Bayern have won the Champions League or European Cup (as it was formerly called) four times, most recently in 2001. This current team won the Bundesliga faster than any team in history and have some of biggest names in modern soccer on their roster.
Three players that will be important for Bayern today are Franck Ribéry, Basitan Schweinsteiger and Dante.
Ribéry is a French international who plays as a winger, essentially an attacking player who plays on the outside of the field. Ribéry can play on both sides but prefers the left side. He's excellent on the ball and is known for his ability to provide precise passes, so look for him to be making runs down the left wing and sending the ball into the Barca area for the strikers to try and attack.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is one of the best midfielders in the world and will play in a deeper role between the defense and the attackers. One of his best talents is his ability to read and game and make excellent decisions, so much so that the current German national team manager Joachim Löw called him "the brain" of the national team.
Dante is a Brazilian central defender who has risen quickly for a relative unknown player to one of the top defenders in the game. He's been called up to the Brazilian national team and is on the cusp of breaking into their starting lineup. He could very well be a key part of their attempt to win the World Cup next summer.
Barcelona are arguably the biggest team in the world at present and have had tremendous success in recent years. Like Bayern they've won the Champions League/European Cup four times, with their most recent victory coming in 2011. Barca are known for their "tiki-taka" possession-based passing system that typically allows them to control the ball for upwards of 70 percent of a match. They've always played stylish, attacking soccer, but their current style was refined by Pep Guardiola, who took over at Barcelona in 2008. Fun fact: Guardiola will take over as head coach of Bayern Munich next season when their current boss Jupp Heynckes retires.
Three key players for Barca today will be Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi.
Iniesta and Xavi are the heart and soul of Barcelona's tiki-taka system and if their system is working the way they want today, these two players will be in control of the ball a lot. There are few players who are better at dribbling and passing the ball as these two players and they're a big part of why the Spanish national team have won three straight major international tournaments, including the World Cup in 2010.
Do we even have to introduce Lionel Messi? The Argentine striker is considered by many the best player in the world and could end up being one of the greatest ever alongside Diego Maradona and Pele. Messi plays centrally in the Barca attack and is able to do things with the ball that most people can't even imagine trying. Messi is coming back from a hamstring strain and how close to 100 percent his is will go a long way towards determining Barca's success today.
Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. ET. If you live in the United States, you can catch the game on FOX Soccer, FOX Deportes or FOX Soccer 2 Go.