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20 Dec 2012 16:26
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. (Patrik Stollarz, AFP)
Real Madrid will face Manchester United in a mouthwatering Champions League last-16 clash that sends Cristiano Ronaldo back to where he made his reputation, and José Mourinho to the club many believe he wants to coach one day.
"It is going to be thrilling for everybody," Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueño said.
In another blockbuster pairing in Thursday's draw, Champions League favourite Barcelona and Lionel Messi will play seven-time winner AC Milan.
Arsenal will face Bayern Munich, last season's beaten finalist. Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain was paired with Valencia.
Further pairing included Celtic versus Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk versus Borussia Dortmund, FC Porto versus Málaga, and Galatasaray versus Schalke.
First-leg matches are to be played from February 12 to 20. Return matches are from March 5 to 13.
The storied history of nine-time European champion Madrid and three-time winner United would be enough to ensure the tie top billing, with the first leg in Spain on February 13.
The friendly rivalries of Mourinho and Alex Ferguson in the dugout, and star forwards Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney on the pitch add an extra dimension.
"[Mourinho] is a fantastic manager, a fantastic coach and of course this tie is going to be a challenge for all of us," Butragueño said.
He, declined to discuss speculation that the Portuguese will leave Madrid after the season, and said he covets the United job.
It was at Old Trafford where Mourinho truly arrived on the international scene with a flamboyant victory sprint down the touchline as his Porto team eliminated United in the last 16 in 2004, the first of Ronaldo's six seasons in England before joining Madrid.
"It is going to be very special for Cristiano," said Butragueño of the Portugal forward, who is the competition's top scorer with six goals.
"He is an extraordinary professional.
United defender Rio Ferdinand wrote on Twitter: "Oh yes, Madrid!! What a great couple a games that'll be!! @Cristiano see u soon bro!!"
Milan had the misfortune to draw Barcelona again after being unable to beat the Catalan side in four matches in last season's group stage and quarterfinals.
"They're not pleased, we're not pleased but this is what the destiny is," Milan director Umberto Gandini told the Associated Press with a smile.
"We have to go over the most difficult team on the planet." Barcelona director Amador Bernabeu said the tie, which opens in Milan, would be a meeting of two "important, classic teams".
Hours before the draw at Uefa headquarters, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova underwent surgery on his throat and faces weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.
Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino opened the ceremony with a message to "a friend of ours. Tito, we are all with you."
Barcelona hopes Vilanova will be on the bench at the San Siro on February 20, Bernabeu said.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the runaway Bundesliga leader "can be happy" with facing Arsenal, which has struggled this season.
"We can manage this, we're going as favourites there," Rummenigge said. "It's important that we try to get a good result in London, to score a goal and set down a marker."
Shakhtar and German champion Dortmund – which won a tough group against Madrid, Ajax and Manchester City – must go to Ukraine for the first leg on February 13.
"They finished first in a very strong group," Shakhtar chief executive Sergei Palkin said. "Our overall goal is to win the Champions League." Paris Saint-Germain and talismanic forward Zlatan Ibrahimović will start as a favourite against Valencia, the Spanish club's director Jordi Bruixola said.
Celtic coach Neil Lennon, who masterminded a group-stage victory against Barcelona, said the Scottish champion would respect the European tradition of two-time winner Juventus.
"In terms of glamour it's great, in terms of qualification it's going to be very tough," Lennon told British broadcaster Sky. – Sapa-AP
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