The UEFA Champion’s league trophy is displayed ahead of the draw for the football competition’s semi-finals, on April 21, 2017 in Nyon. / AFP PHOTO / Richard Juilliart
Holders Real Madrid face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals as the city rivals do battle once more and French surprise-package Monaco take on Juventus, following the draw on Friday.
The all-Madrid showdown is a rerun of the 2014 and 2016 finals in Europe’s top club competition, with a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real victorious on both occasions in tight, cagey affairs.
Real will host Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu on May 2 and Monaco are home to Italian champions Juventus on May 3, with the second legs the following week.
Going into the draw at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland all four teams were making the usual noises: there is nothing to choose between any of them, they said publicly.
But the 39-year-old Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon broke ranks, saying that he would prefer to avoid a wily Atletico side because they are out of the La Liga title race so can rest players for Europe.
“The only distinction from the three teams is that Atletico Madrid have a more marked and defined position in the (league) standings,” said the stopper, who is yet to win the Champions League, calling Diego Simeone’s team “the trickiest” of the sides left.
“The other two (Real and Monaco) are fighting for the championship (as are Juventus) so that could be a factor.”
Real Madrid, for whom Ronaldo hit a hat-trick as they saw off Bayern Munich in the quarters, are favourites with British bookmakers.
But Juventus were hugely impressive in beating Barcelona 3-0 in the first leg and then holding the Spanish champions to a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou on Wednesday in a defensive masterclass.
Beaten Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has tipped Juventus to lift the trophy they last won in 1996 and they will be favourites against Monaco.
“Over the two legs they were better than us so they deserve to go through to the semi-finals. I think they can win the Champions League this season,” the Spanish international said after Buffon shut out Lionel Messi and Barcelona over 180 minutes of football.
French league leaders Monaco are the outsiders but they have already claimed victims in Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals and Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur before that.
The French side — Buffon labelled them “feisty” — are full of attacking vim and have hit a staggering 141 goals in all competitions this season.
And in teenage striking sensation Kylian Mbappe, 18, allied with a rejuvenated Radamel Falcao, they have the firepower to trouble any defence.
The final is in Cardiff on June 3.