Friday, 9 March 2007

Manchester and Munich next

Milan and Roma will have to get past Bayern Munich and Manchester United respectively to set up an all Italian Champions League semi-final after today's draw in Athens.

Although the two Serie A sides were kept apart in the quarter-final draw, they will meet in the last four if victorious. But they will both face some tough competition in the next round after being paired with two of European football's heavyweights.

The Rossoneri, drawn at home in the first leg, will have to defeat Bayern after the latter dumped Real Madrid out of the competition this week.

Milan and Bayern, who have ten European crowns between them, met most recently in the first knockout round of last year's competition when the Milan giants won 5-2 on aggregate.

Meanwhile, Roma will entertain English Premiership leaders Manchester United at the Stadio Olimpico first in a mouth-watering encounter.

The other half of the quarter-final draw has seen Chelsea paired with Inter’s conquerors Valencia, while PSV will face Liverpool as they did earlier in the competition.

The quarter-final ties will be played on 3/4 April and 10/11 April, while the semi-finals will be played on 24/25 April and 1/2 May.

April 3/4 & 10/11
Milan - Bayern Munich
PSV Eindhoven - Liverpool
Roma - Manchester United
Chelsea - Valencia


April 24/25 & May 1/2
Chelsea/Valencia - PSV/Liverpool
Roma/Man Utd - Milan/Bayern

May 23
Roma/Man Utd/Milan/Bayern - Chelsea/Valencia/PSV/Liverpool

Roma - Man Utd

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti cursed his luck after they were paired with Manchester United in the quarter-finals. Having beaten French champions Lyon to reach this stage of the competition for the first time since 1984, Roma must now take on the Premiership's top team. "We have not been lucky in the draws as Manchester United and Lyon are probably the most complete sides in Europe," said Spalletti. "At this stage of the competition every side is strong but United are probably the best of the eight teams left."

Roma won 2-0 at Lyon on Tuesday to secure an identical aggregate success while United booked their first quarter-final since 2003 thanks to 1-0 victories home and away against Lille. The two clubs have never met before but Spalletti knows all about the strengths of Sir Alex Ferguson's outfit. "They are very good, young, they have enthusiasm, tradition and are used to playing at this level. However, we have to play our own game without thinking about the strength of our opponents, just as we did against Lyon. Probably we are a bit more technical and a bit more organised in defence, but they have great physical power and great players."

For United, meanwhile, facing Roma for the first time will be "a new and exciting experience" according to Sir Alex. "That's the great thing about Europe, you play teams you've never played before," said the Scot, who explained that Roma's defeat of Lyon meant nobody at Old Trafford would be taking the Serie A side lightly. "We respect their last result. They have some great players like [Daniele] De Rossi and Mancini."

United will travel to Rome for the first leg on 4 April with the return in Manchester six days later. The winning team will encounter either Milan or Bayern Munich in the last four. Of a possible semi-final against Milan, Spalletti said: "We want to go all the way and I would have preferred to face Milan in Athens."

Milan - Bayern
AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti is looking forward to pitting his wits against another manager who knows all about winning the Champions League, Bayern's Ottmar Hitzfeld.

The Rossoneri eliminated the Bavarians in the first knockout round last year, a 4-1 second-leg victory completing a 5-2 aggregate success, only to fall in the semi-finals to eventual winners Barcelona. That defeat signalled the end of a proud Milan record as on each previous occasion they had knocked out Bayern they had gone on to lift a trophy. It happened in this competition in 1989/90 and 2002/03 and also in the 1967/68 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

"Hitzfeld has great experience and is a great coach who's won the trophy in the past," Ancelotti said. "He was very good tactically against Real Madrid and is half the strength of the team at the moment. Bayern are a club with great tradition and strength. They had a difficult spell in the winter but have improved a lot since changing coach and I'm sure it will be a very balanced tie."

Ancelotti admitted to being pleased to avoid Roma and Manchester United - "probably the best team in Europe at the moment" - but knows his charges will meet one of those clubs in the semi-finals should they get past Bayern over two legs scheduled for 3 and 11 April. "It would be very good to play an all-Italian semi-final against Roma. I hope we both qualify," concluded the 47-year-old.

Hitzfeld was also looking forward to the tie concluding at the Allianz Arena in Munich. "Milan are a top team and this will be a big challenge," he said. "We've learned from Madrid and it's up to us to make a good start there in order to go through at home with the help of our crowd." If history is any indicator, Bayern will need all the assistance they can get - in 15 home games against German visitors Milan have won 12 times and lost just twice.

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