The draw for this season’s UEFA Champions League last 16 has taken place and it certainly produced some mouthwatering encounters to look forward to. These games will take place on February 24th & 25th with the return legs two weeks later on March 10th & 11th. Here is the full draw as it was drawn in Nyon, Switzerland:
Chelsea v Juventus
Villarreal v Panathinaikos
Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid v FC Porto
Lyon v Barcelona
Real Madrid v Liverpool
Arsenal v Roma
Inter Milan v Manchester United
The current champions Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson face their old friend, the former Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho and his Inter Milan side who were knocked out by Liverpool last year at the same stage. Mourinho had made it clear he wanted to draw one of the English «big four» clubs and he certainly got his wish, with the first leg to be played at the San Siro. The game at Old Trafford will no doubt revive memories of Mourinho’s famous celebration, as he ran down the touchline back in March 2004 when his Porto side scored a last minute equaliser that sent United crashing out of the Champions League. Of course Mourinho and Porto went on the lift the trophy that season beating Monaco in the final.
Sir Alex Ferguson is also looking forward to the tie as well. Ferguson believes it will be very interesting to come up against Mourinho as he has a character with a good personality. Contrary to what used to go on between the two when Mourinho managed Chelsea, Ferguson also said that he has always got on well with the now Inter Milan manager. It didn’t take long for Mourinho to also start the psychological word games by talking up Man Utd. He stated that he wanted to be drawn against the best and that he got the European champions. Man Utd could also be crowned World Club Champions in Japan this weekend too. Meanwhile another of the English teams, Liverpool, were drawn against the current Spanish champions Real Madrid and their new manager, ex Tottenham boss, Juande Ramos. The former Tottenham manager has only just taken over at the Bernabeu and will no doubt be looking forward to his return to England with the 9 times winners Real Madrid. Liverpool have the perceived advantage of the second leg at Anfield due to finishing their group on top. The tie is a repeat of the 1981 Paris final, which the English side won 1-0 thanks to a goal by defender Alan Kennedy. That was the last time these two giants of European football have met in a competitive game.
The draw also provided Italian coach Claudio Ranieri the chance of an emotional return to London and Stamford Bridge, against his former club Chelsea, last year’s beaten finalists. Ranieri is now the manager get Italian giants Juventus. Ranieri was a popular figure at Stamford Bridge before being replaced by non-other than Jose Mourinho in 2004. This despite Ranieri guiding them to the Champions League semi-final, where they lost to Monaco, who as mentioned above were then beaten by Mourinho and Porto. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal will have the first leg at home as they take on AS Roma. The Arsenal manager believes the Gunners, just like every other team now left in the competition, has a good chance of lifting the trophy in Rome come May. Despite both those difficult ties for Arsenal and Chelsea, they will have breathed a huge sigh of relief as the draw was made as they could have been paired with the current favourites Barcelona. They will have been extremely happy to have avoided the Catalans however, as mentioned above both Arsenal and Chelsea face difficult ties against AS Roma and Juventus respectively.
The «unlucky» team to draw Barcelona were the French champions Lyon and looking ahead to the game, their sporting director Bernard Lacombe admitted that they were very worried. Lyon couldn’t have been handed a more difficult game.
The Spanish team Villareal, which finished second in the group stages behind Manchester Utd, were handed, what on paper at least, looks one of the easier ties. They will face the Greek side Panathinaikos which pipped Inter Milan to top stop in their Group. So, Panathinaikos will equally be relived they didn’t finish second, as Utd would have been awaiting them. Former champions, and I suspect a dark horse for this season’s cempetition, Bayern Munich, will play the Portuguese team Sporting Lisbon and in the final tie of the round another Portuguese team Porto will go head to head with another Spanish team, Athletico Madrid.
There truly are some great games to look forward to in early 2009. No doubt there will be plenty of drama and a few shocks, the UEFA Champions League never disappoints once it has entered the sudden death knock-out stages.