Leicester draws Atletico Madrid in Champions League quarters
Holders Real Madrid will face Bayern Munich and a reunion with “master” Carlo Ancelotti after Zinedine Zidane got his wish and avoided Leicester City in Friday’s Champions League quarter-final draw.
Leicester will play Atletico Madrid — “a massive challenge,” said Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare — and the Italian and Spanish champions clash with Juventus drawing the miracle men of Barcelona.
The final tie in Europe’s premier club competition pits Manchester City’s slayers Monaco against Borussia Dortmund. Zidane, Ancelotti’s assistant when Madrid won their 10th European Cup in 2014, said: “It will be master against pupil for sure.
“I learned a lot from him, he is a great person and we all know what we did here.” Bayern boss Ancelotti is similarly relishing their reunion and a return to the Bernabeu in the pick of the last-eight pairings.
“It is going to be exciting to play against them. We are very confident and want to win the Champions League this season,” said the Italian, who also won the European title twice with AC Milan.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge anticipates “a classic” between the two footballing superpowers when they go head to head over two legs next month. “All football fans in the world can look forward to it,” the prolific former Germany striker said.
But not everyone was so enthused. “It is one of the worst draws we could have got without a doubt, but it is also for them,” said Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno. “We would have liked to have faced them further on in the competition. The whole world will be watching these two games.”
– ‘Brilliant occasion’ –
Leicester, making their debut in the Champions League and rank outsiders, will have to upset the European elite all over again after landing last year’s beaten finalists in the draw in Nyon, Switzerland.
British bookmakers promptly slashed the odds, making Atletico Madrid third favourites to lift the trophy in the June 3 final at Cardiff, behind favourites Barcelona and Bayern.
The Foxes, who last month sacked Claudio Ranieri despite him masterminding their unlikely charge to last season’s Premier League title, will travel to the Spanish capital for the first leg.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico have reached the Champions League final in two of the last three seasons, losing to city rivals Real on both occasions, last year on penalties.
“Atletico Madrid are a very good team with some fantastic individuals with experience in the competition, but we’ll be ready to give everything to progress,” said Shakespeare, whose side are fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the Premier League.
“It will be a brilliant occasion for our supporters and for everyone at the club but, before the players can begin to think about these games, we have Premier League matches to come that are of huge significance to our season.”
– Revenge mission –
Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon was another who had said he wanted to avoid the “enthusiasm” of Leicester. He might now wish otherwise after they were paired with Barcelona and the competition’s top marksman Lionel Messi.
Barcelona’s dramatic comeback from 4-0 down in the last 16, crushing Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in a Neymar-inspired rout in the return fixture at the Camp Nou, was a chilling reminder of their potency. “You need to be at your best for 180 minutes or more to overcome Barca,” warned Juventus vice-president and former midfield general Pavel Nedved.
But the Italians will have a whiff of revenge in their nostrils for their narrow 2015 final defeat against Barcelona. “It’s a fascinating tie. Juve have improved a lot since 2015 and this team can play without fear against Barcelona,” Nedved added.
Monaco stunned Manchester City in the last round and the French side, full of exciting young talent and goals — they are they highest scorers in Europe’s top leagues — face another goal-machine and a Monaco old boy in Borussia Dortmund predator Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
“I saw Monaco’s match against Manchester City and I am aware that they have a goal difference of plus 58 in the league. It’s a difficult match,” said Dortmund chairman Hans Watzke. Monaco admitted that they could have had a worse draw but coach Leonardo Jardim said the Germans would have the edge.
“Dortmund are used to playing at this level, we’re not. But we’ll play our own game, try and win it our way,” said the Portuguese. The quarter-final first legs will be played on April 11-12 and the second legs on April 18-19.
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