And then there were four. Four giants of European football battling it out for a trip to Berlin in the Champions League final. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid. La Liga leaders, Bundesliga champions, Italian champions and the European champions. It's not the easiest one to call.
All have their star qualities and all have their deficiencies. All four will be confident that they can go all the way and add to the 21 titles they have already won between them in world football's elite club competition. Ten for Madrid, five for Bayern, four for Barcelona and two for Juventus.
All four have their own unique stories. Pep Guardiola will be out to take his side a stage further than his first season in charge last season, when they bowed out with a 5-0 aggregate defeat to Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti will look to become the first coach to successfully retain the trophy in its current format. Luis Enrique will aim to make it extremely difficult to sack him at the end of the season by winning club football's top prize and Juve will be out for a return back to the big stage and to shine a light back on Italian football.
Supporters and journalists alike have found this season's Champions League a tough one to call, even more so now four seemingly evenly matched giants of the game meet in the last four. All have a good chance of lifting old "Big Ears", as the trophy is affectionately known, not least Madrid, who showed their battling qualities with a 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night to book their place in the semi-finals.
Madrid may not be the outright favourites they were at the start of the season to retain their crown but they have as good a chance of any of the final four. That victory against Atletico, last season's finalists, came with key men injured and it ended a seven-match winless streak against their city neighbours. It showed Madrid still have the battling qualities, as well as the star qualities, to win their eleventh European Cup.
Diego Simeone's comments before the match that Madrid were the "best team in the world" may have been a tool to motivate his players, a team who like to play the underdogs, but Ancelotti's men did not let the Argentine down. Carlo Ancelotti's words that there were "no problems, only solutions at Madrid" seemed only to act as a confidence booster for those set to come in for the injured absentees but the Italian did indeed have the solutions.
In Barca, Bayern and Juve, Madrid have arguably Europe's top-three form sides as possible opponents in the semi-finals but it can be argued that their biggest nemesis is already out of the way. When Atleti's name came out of the hat to face Madrid in the quarter-finals it was the one Ancelotti wanted to avoid. He had faced Simeone seven times already this season and was yet to come out on top. The Argentine has his number but, just like in Lisbon last May, he didn't when it really mattered.
With Atleti out of the way, Madrid will fancy their chances against anyone in the last four. They already despatched Pep's Bayern in emphatic fashion last season, producing the perfect game plan to thwart the Germans at Bernabeu and nick the lead before hitting the Bavarians with a killer counter-attack at the Allianz Arena. It was brutal.
That type of performance was always going to be a possible for a team of Madrid's stature such was the talent within the squad but it did almost come from nowhere. Ancelotti's men faltered in the league somewhat, as they have in recent months this season, but that did not knock-on to Europe. Ancelotti is a man for the knockout competitions and Madrid will be hoping he is again this season.
In Barca, Madrid could face a foe that is firing on all cylinders at the moment. They are firing on all cylinders but Ancelotti and his men left the Camp Nou last month feeling hard done by. Luis Enrique's men got the points with a 2-1 win but Madrid could take plenty from the match. They were far from outclassed and they will feel they can get the better of Barca over two legs.
Juve are a team in similar good form to Barca and Bayern but Ancelotti and his staff will have his compatriots well scouted. If there is to be a remaining dark horse, Juventus are it but, as Atleti showed last season, that could well work in their favour. With Gianluigi Buffon, Paul Pogba and Carlos Tevez Juve have experience, youthful exuberance and a squad packed full of quality. Madrid took four points from the Italians in last season's group stage and they will be confident of a similar positive outcome a year on.
Ancelotti will also be able to welcome back some players from the treatment room. Although Luka Modric's absence is more long-term, both Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will hope to be fit for both legs of the semi-finals, with the first match due to be played in the week of May 5 or 6. Marcelo will also return from suspension and Madrid will have nobody missing through a ban this term. Bookings are also wiped clean so nobody will be treading a tightrope and risk missing the final as Xabi Alonso did last term.
Madridistas should also be buoyed by the fact that Ancelotti changed things on Wednesday against Atleti. It was largely through force rather than choice but the Italian has been stubborn and predictable in his tactics and formations this season but he showcased his best risk-taking manoeuvre in giving Sergio Ramos a starting role in the middle, one that was ultimately a success. The return of Bale and Benzema should hand the Madrid coach more options but Ramos's performance in the middle will give the Italian food for thoughts.
Barca and Bayern may be the two sides talked about as possible winners of this season's Champions League but Madrid showed enough on Wednesday night, and have the squad quality, to continue their love affair with the European Cup and make history with back-to-back triumphs.