Thursday 18 January 2018

Barca the booby prize in intriguing last-eight draw

Henry Winter

Avoid Barcelona. Even such a confident soul as Cristiano Ronaldo said it; even Alex Ferguson, who does not understand the concept of fear, spoke of Barcelona's quality and "fantastic" ability to keep a largely settled team.

Events in Nyon (from 11.0 Irish time) this morning pose so many intriguing possibilities. Any of the English could be drawn against each other when the draw is made for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League.

Spurs v United? Gareth Bale versus whoever's left standing at right-back, although Ferguson reckons Rafael should have recovered in time.

Bale versus Rafael is developing into one of the best match-ups in modern football; the Brazilian was sent off at the Lane, but superb against the Welshman at Old Trafford. Spurs fans would love it if Dimitar Berbatov was on the bench.

Chelsea against United? Fernando Torres would get almost as much caustic serenading from the terraces as John Terry. Chelsea v Spurs has acquired a real edge in recent times and this would be a classic, particularly at the Lane, a special place on big European nights.

Ask Inter Milan. The Italians could be heading back to the scene of their group-stage humbling and allowing for a reprise of the chant of the year: 'Taxi for Maicon'. Just what Inter's right-back wants -- another sprint duel with Bale.

Ronaldo could be returning to United, his old home, where he would be guaranteed a rapturous welcome. "Put him on a plane, bring him back from Spain," they sing on the Stretford End. Karim Benzema's presence would certainly stir interest, the French striker being a long-time target of Ferguson. Adding more spice to the pot of intrigue, Old Trafford is also the setting of potentially Jose Mourinho's next abode.

Mourinho's Madrid could get Barcelona, a Gran Clasico with Champions League grandeur, presenting the 'Special One' with another chance to outwit his old club.

Shakhtar Donetsk and Schalke deserve immense respect for reaching the last eight, but will be the preferred choice of Spurs, United and Chelsea. Just avoid Barcelona.

For those who enjoy their sporting symmetry, London figures large in Catalan thoughts. Pep Guardiola won the 1992 European Cup at Wembley and has an affection for the place. His route to the final could simply involve trips to London; having beaten Arsenal, Barcelona could get Spurs, then Chelsea, and then the Wembley final.

Meanwhile, the Catalans' French defender Eric Abidal is recovering after an operation to remove a tumour in his liver yesterday.

The club said the 31-year-old "could be released within a week depending on his progress". It is unclear how long Abidal will be out of action but any prolonged absence would be a blow to Barca, who are five points ahead of Real Madrid with 10 games left. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Champions League last eight

Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke 04, Tottenham.

Irish Independent

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