(Sporting Alert) — Ifare to win the Champions League this year they will have to beat the best from the start after the Barclays Premier League leaders drew Spanish champions Real Madrid in the last 16 on Thursday.
The draw means Cristiano Ronaldo will face his former club for the first time since he left Old Trafford for the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
“I am sure it will be a special game for him (Ronaldo). He’s a great professional. I’m sure he’s going to do his best to help us qualify. It’s going to very, very special for him,” Real Madrid’s director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueno said on www.uefa.com.
“It will be a thrilling experience for everyone. Manchester United are not only a great team but a great organisation known around the world.
“But we know it’s going to be tough, Sir Alex Ferguson has been there over 25 years and he’s a fantastic manager – he knows how to get the best out of his players and they have top players, but we are Real Madrid and we will try our best.
“I know the coaches have a great relationship. We are very happy with him [Mourinho] and I hope he’s going to lead the team to the Champions League to make our fans feel proud of the team.”
Another Premier League side, Arsenal, were also drawn against difficult opponents after Arsene Wenger’s side got last year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich.
Elsewhere, Celtic, who were bracing to face Manchester United in the first round knock out phase, will meet Italian champions Juventus, a drawn Celtic manager Neil Lennon is expecting to be very tough.
“Well in terms of glamour it’s a beauty. Juventus are one of the great traditional European teams. They’re current Italian champions and finished the group stage very strongly,” Lennon told Sky Sports News.
“So in terms of glamour it’s great, in terms of qualification it is going to be very tough, but it could have been any of the other teams and it would have been just as tough.”
Barcelona and Lionel Messi will take on Italian giants AC Milan, while Galatasaray got Schalke, Shakhtar Donetsk meet Borussia Dortmund, Valencia pair up with Paris St Germain and Porto drew Malaga.
Barcelona is the on form side this season, but Celtic have proven that even thy can be beaten on their off days.
AC Milan will be hoping for something similar when they play the first leg at the San Siro. Barcelona were 3-1 winners on aggregate when the two teams met in the quarter-finals stage last season.
“Last season we faced them twice (the group stage and quarter-finals), this time only once fortunately. We are now used to playing in Catalonia,” AC Milan sporting director Umberto Gandini said on www.uefa.com.
“We are improving and I’m sure we will continue to do so until February.
“We face a perfect machine, even if they had more problems than usual this season in the group stage. Let’s just hope we will qualify this time around.
“This is the highest hurdle we could face but if we manage to pass it we can go all the way.”
The first legs of the Champions League round of last 16 will take place on February 12-13 and 19-20, with the second legs scheduled take place on March 5-6 and 12-13.
Champions League Last 16 First Round Knock Out Phase Draw
Galatasaray v Schalke
Celtic v Juventus
Arsenal v Bayern Munich
Shakhtar Donetsk v Borussia Dortmund
AC Milan v Barcelona
Real Madrid v Manchester United
Valencia v Paris St Germain
Porto v Malaga