Ronaldo’s Real face United in CL glamour tie
NYON (Switzerland), Dec 20: Real Madrid will face Manchester United in a mouth-watering Champions League last-16 clash that sends Cristiano Ronaldo back to where he developed into one of the world’s greatest forwards, and Jose Mourinho to the club many believe he wants to coach one day.
Perennial favourites Barcelona and Lionel Messi will play seven-time winners AC Milan, last season’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich play Arsenal and Juventus take on surprise qualifiers Celtic.
Big-spending Paris St Germain face Valencia with German champions Borussia Dortmund slated to face their Ukrainian counterparts Shakhtar Donetsk. Competition debutants Malaga tackle Porto and Turkish outfit Galatasaray meet German side
But the fate of the two Spanish giants in Thursday’s draw at UEFA headquarters attracted most interest and both were pitted against clubs with decades of European experience.
The storied history of nine-time European champions Real and three-time winners United would be enough to ensure the tie top billing and Ronaldo, a United player from 2003 to 2009, will be desperate for Real to rise to the occasion.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a special game for him (Ronaldo),” said Emilio Butragueno, Real Madrid’s director of institutional relations. “I think the fans will be very, very happy with this very attractive, thrilling tie.”
Real coach Mourinho has only lost two of his 14 previous encounters with Alex Ferguson’s side, and United club secretary John Alexander admitted the club would have preferred a more gentle draw.
“Everyone wanted to keep this for later in the competition but, out of several stand-out ties, I think this is the one,” he told British television channel Sky Sports News.
Barcelona and Milan locked horns four times in last season’s competition, with Barca finishing above Massimiliano Allegri’s side in the group phase and then prevailing 3-1 on aggregate when they met again in the last eight.
“They’re not pleased, we’re not pleased but this is what the destiny is,” Milan director Umberto Gandini said. “We have to go over the most difficult team on the planet.”
Barcelona vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Spanish broadcaster Canal Plus: “Milan are one of Europe’s greats and a club that commands a huge amount of respect.”
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the runaway Bundesliga leaders “can be happy” with facing Arsenal, who have struggled this season.
“We can manage this, we’re going as favourites there,” Rummenigge said. “It’s important that we try to get a good result in London, to score a goal and set down a marker.”
Juventus, who last won the European Cup in 1996, finished top of their group and will not be disappointed to have drawn Celtic who pulled off a major shock by beating Barcelona this season.
“In terms of glamour, it is great,” Celtic coach Neil Lennon told Sky Sports News.
“In terms of qualification it is going to be very tough.”
Dortmund, Bundesliga champions and winners of a tough group including Real, Ajax and Manchester City, were wary of their Ukrainian opponents.
“They are not necessarily the team we would have wanted,” said Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke. “It’s a very difficult tie but we showed in the group stage that we can beat strong opponents.” The first-leg matches will be played on dates
between February 12-13 and February 19-20 and the return legs between March 5-6 and March 12-13.—Agencies