Today's draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League has thrown up some of the toughest ties that the competition has ever seen. That was hardly surprising given that eight former champions, boasting some 30 titles between them, are still involved in Europe's elite club competition.
Five-time champions Liverpool, who fell at the final hurdle last season but only qualified from the group stage on the final matchday earlier this month, have been pitted against Inter Milan. The Italian champions and current unbeaten leaders of Serie A do not have quite the Champions League pedigree of the Reds, having 'only' won the tournament in 1964 and 1965 back in the glory days of Helenio Herrera and the Catenaccio. Since Roberto Mancini took over the coaching reins, however, the club have completely changed their style of play and the Nerazzuri are determined to emerge from the European shadow of their illustrious neighbours. The return match will be played a week later than the others on 11 March, since AC Milan also have to play their second leg at the San Siro.
Speaking of the reigning champions, having added the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2007 to their UEFA Champions League title - their seventh success in Europe's foremost club competition - AC Milan are looking to give captain Paolo Maldini the ultimate parting gift before he hangs up his boots at the end of the season. The next hurdle on the road to retaining their title will be a tough one though. The Rossoneri have been drawn against Arsenal, who do not seem to be missing Thierry Henry much, despite the French striker recently being voted the best player in the club's history. Arsene Wenger's cosmopolitan and young squad play an attacking brand of total football, and when it comes off they are capable of scoring goals aplenty, as their 7-0 thrashing of Slavia Prague in the group stage illustrated.
Real return to Rome, Barcelona back to Glasgow
There are a number of other English and Italian teams still involved. Francesco Totti's AS Roma are also looking for their first Champions League title and have been drawn against the mighty Real Madrid, nine-times winners of the competition. Bernd Schuster's men are well clear at the top of la Liga on the back of a hatful of goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robinho and Raul, who seems to be enjoying a veritable Indian summer.
Two-time winners Manchester United have an excellent record against French clubs (eight wins and only three defeats), but they will nevertheless need to be on their guard against Lyon, who have won six Ligue 1 titles in a row. OL have never gone beyond the quarter-final of the competition, and pushed Manchester United all the way in the group stages in 2004/2005 (2-2, 1-2). The Red Devils will have the advantage of playing the second leg of this year's tie at Old Trafford.
Another two former European champions have been drawn together, namely Celtic and Barcelona. The Glaswegians, who possess an awesome record at Celtic Park, will try to take a lead with them from the home leg before making the daunting trip to the Camp Nou, where city rivals Rangers fell 2-0 in the group stage this year.
The last three seeds got perhaps the best of the draw. Porto, unbeaten on the domestic front this season and who topped their UEFA Champions League group ahead of Liverpool, will face Schalke 04, the last German club left in the competition, who sneaked past Rosenborg on the final group phase matchday. Chelsea's route to a first European success will take them to Greece to face an Olympiakos team which lost only one group match, to Real Madrid, and eliminated both Lazio and Werder Bremen.
The new kids on the block in the last 16, namely Turkish side Fenerbahce, will also consider themselves relatively lucky to have pulled another team out of the hat - Sevilla - who are not regulars in the knock-out stage of the competition. Brazilian coach Zico will be hoping to compensate for the Istanbul outfit's lack of big-match experience, but Fenerbahce will have to beware of another Brazilian, Luis Fabiano, who has scored ten goals in 11 Liga matches this season and an amazing seven in eight UEFA Champions League ties.
Round of 16
First legs to be played on 19 and 20 February, second legs on 4 and 5 March (Inter Milan-Liverpool on 11 March)
Schalke 04-FC Porto
AS Roma-Real Madrid