Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid will resume their bid for a first European Cup treble in 42 years against Neymar’s Paris Saint-Germain after the big-spending duo were on Monday drawn together in a mouth-watering Champions League last 16 clash.
No club has won the European title three years running since Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, underlining how big an achievement it would be if Madrid — 12 times winners overall — won the trophy again in the final in Kiev in May.
Challenging them for the title will be a record five English clubs through to the last 16, with Chelsea facing the most challenging hurdle in the shape of La Liga giants Barcelona.
Barca’s Spanish rivals Real know exactly what it takes to be European champions, and in Ronaldo have the most prolific goal-scorer in the competition’s history.
Emilio Butragueno, a Real director and former striker, regretted that one of the favourites would be eliminated so soon in the competition.
“For the potential of the two teams, luck has worked out this way and one of the two teams will be out at the last 16 stage, which we think is a bit soon taking into account they are two of the contenders for the title,” Butragueno told BeIN Sports Spain.
PSG made waves in the transfer market in the close season when they signed Brazilian star Neymar for a world-record 222 million euros ($261.5 million), followed closely by great French hope Kylian Mbappe, who will cost 180m euros when his loan deal becomes permanent next summer.
“Every summer they have signed great players, they get stronger all the time and they have had a nearly impeccable group stage,” acknowledged Butragueno.
“With Neymar and Mbappe they have improved a lot up front, they are a very dangerous team who will demand the best of us. We need to face both games like finals and for the fans it will be a thrilling tie.”
Chance for PSG to atone
PSG ambassador Maxwell said the Real tie threw up the chance for the Parisian club to atone for their 6-1 hammering by Barcelona that eliminated them in the last 16 last season.
“It’s a good draw, with two good games to play,” Maxwell said. “Our fans will like it after we were knocked out by Barcelona last season.
“It will be nice. It’s a beautiful challenge for the club. I think we’re ready for that.”
Barcelona will be wary of Chelsea, the English club enjoying four wins to three in their 12 previous Champions League meetings, their most recent coming in the semi-finals in 2012 as the London side marched to the title.
“It is a good tie, the factor of playing the first leg away can always help you a little,” said Barca director Guillermo Amor. “We are very optimistic, we are confident and want to keep going in this competition.
“We will see who arrives better for the dates of the game. We hope we will be strong because we are facing a strong team, an English team that runs and is very physical but also has very good players.”
Bayern vs Besiktas
English Premier League leaders Manchester City play Basel, who have had some fine results against English sides in recent years, while five-time winners and current Bundesliga table toppers Bayern Munich drew Turkish giants Besiktas.
Bayern’s director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic said the Germans would not be underestimating Besiktas, who should enjoy some raucous support from the city’s Turkish community.
“We know how strong they are after we followed their games against Leipzig. It will be a difficult task, but we are looking forward to the unusual atmosphere in their stadium,” he said.
“One always says that it is a disadvantage to play at home in the first-leg, which is right — it certainly won’t be an advantage – but we are strong enough to accept that and we will give our all.”
England’s three-time champions Manchester United face Sevilla, Liverpool, five-time winners, will be up against two-time former champions Porto, and Tottenham take on last year’s beaten finalists Juventus.
Juve vice-president Pavel Nedved dubbed Spurs a “very solid team”.
“Juventus have been there (finals) twice in the last three years, it’s something that definitely does not happen to everyone, for now we think of Tottenham and nothing else.”
Unfancied Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk will play Roma to round out the eight ties, with first legs set for February 13/14 and 20/21 and second legs March 6/7 and 13/14.