Any club with ambitions of winning the Champions League will have to beat the best at some point en-route to lifting the trophy, but most teams would understandably prefer to be able to reach the final with favourable opponents where possible throughout the knockout rounds.
Everyone looks for the weakest team(s) when the various draws are made, and those are always the ones they most want to face to have the best chance of progressing.
Based on historical data since 1994/95 when the competition expanded to more than just semi-finals and a final in the knockout portion, Bwin research can reveal the countries whose teams are best and worst to face at each stage from Last 16 to the final four.
When it comes to the Last 16, introduced in place of the second group stage in 2003/04, it is Spanish clubs that are best avoided (it seems nobody told Paris Saint-Germain that this week).
Teams from La Liga have prevailed in 25 of 40 Last 16 ties they've played prior to this season. That's a success rate of 62.5% compared to 60% for French teams and 58.1% for English.
It seems the best opponents (countries with minimum 10 appearances at this stage) to have in the Last 16 are Italian, with Serie A clubs winning just 15 of their 32 ties (46.9%).
For quarter finals, it is still best to avoid teams from La Liga. Spanish clubs have qualified from 27 of 42 (64.3%) of quarter final ties, while teams from the Premier League have managed to get through 21 of 36 at a success rate of 58.3%.
The most favourable opponent (countries with minimum 5 appearances) are those from Portugal. Porto, on their way to lifting the trophy in 2004, are the only Primeira Liga team to have actually gone beyond the last eight. Paris Saint-Germain will also have their work cut out in the next round as clubs from France have only gone beyond the quarters 31.3% of the time.
In the semi-finals, Italian clubs are typically the strongest. Despite being the more favourable opponents in earlier rounds, when teams from Serie A get their act together and progress to the latter stages, they are the most difficult to beat.
As many as 10 of 13 Italian semi-finalists have gone on to reach the final at a success rate of 76.9%. Only one in five Ligue 1 clubs have gone beyond the semis since 1995, that was Monaco in 2003/04. So French is the nationality you want most, to reach the showpiece event.
England's clubs don't have the best record of converting semi-final appearances into finals, with only 9 of 21 making it through. At a 42.9% success rate, that's weaker than Spain (48.1%) and Germany (53.3%).
For Real Madrid, who are currently 3-1 ahead on aggregate in the Last 16 against Napoli, a possible quarter final against Benfica and a possible semi-final against PSG or Monaco would given the best chance of reaching the final again and perhaps become the first holders to successfully retain their trophy in the Champions League era.
Statistically Most/Least Favourable Opposition in Knockout Rounds:
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