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Be careful what you wish for. Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson both accurately predicted the opponents with which Friday's Champions League draw would pair them, but their only reward is to find their path to the quarter-finals blocked by immense obstacles.
Chelsea, the Premiership leaders, will face Barcelona, leaders of La Liga,and the club at which Mourinho made his name, rising from translator to become Sir Bobby Robson's assistant. "I would say we are the two strongest teams in the world right now," Joan Laporta, Barcelona's president, said. "It will be very difficult, very competitive."
The two have already produced one classic meeting in the Champions League, Chelsea beating Barcelona 3-1 in the first leg of the quarter-final in 2000, only to succumb to a sustained assault at the Camp Nou and eventually go down 5-1 after extra-time. "We've got a score to settle," said the Chelsea secretary David Barnard. "But we're playing with so much confidence in our own ability that we're not scared of anyone."
Ferguson, meanwhile, will come up against Jaap Stam, a key defender in his 1999 treble-winning team, as Manchester United face AC Milan. The Italians won the last of their six European Cups at Old Trafford two years ago, beating Juventus on penalties in the final. "Old Trafford is a special place for us and we will be happy to go back," said their director Umberto Gandini. But a more accurate indication of his thoughts came as he asked: "Why us?" Not that Juventus, the one team above Milan in Serie A, have an easier ride, having drawn Real Madrid in a repeat of the 1998 final and the 2003 semi-final.
If Chelsea are seeking revenge for a quarter-final defeat, so too are Liverpool, who were drawn against Bayer Leverkusen. The German side beat both Liverpool and Manchester United on their way to the final in 2002.
With their Premiership form faltering, the Champions League is already looking like the only way Liverpool can salvage their season and convince the likes of Steven Gerrard that the club is moving forward.
David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman, spoke of his club's "need" to succeed in Europe after years of under-achievement. They gained little, though, by topping their group with the 5-1 victory over Rosenborg a fortnight ago, and will not have it easy against the Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich, who appear to be improving week by week under Felix Magath. Last season's champions Porto carry on their defence against Inter Milan.
In the Uefa Cup, Newcastle face the Dutch side Heerenveen, while Middlesbrough take on the Austrian champions Grazer AK.
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