United and Real Madrid draw stirs the blood
SOCCER:A delicious shudder of excitement and anticipation ran through two of Europe’s great football cities yesterday morning when the draw for the Champions League’s round of 16 produced a meeting between Manchester United and Real Madrid, alongside several other extremely promising ties.
Arsenal versus Bayern Munich, last year’s beaten finalists, and Celtic versus Juventus, the current Italian champions and league leaders, are contests to stir the blood.
So are the scheduled encounters between Milan and Barcelona, members of Europe’s old football aristocracy, and Shakhtar Donetsk and Borussia Dortmund, two of the most interesting teams to emerge from the group stage, who played important parts in the early elimination of Chelsea and Manchester City.
But it was to the match between United and Madrid that Paddy Crerand was referring when he unleashed a tweet within seconds of the announcement: “A clash of the titans, two biggest and most romantic clubs on the planet.”
Crerand, of course, views the world from a United perspective, having played a part in the club’s first European Cup success 45 years ago. As a Glaswegian of a certain age, he also remembers the night in 1960 when the Madrid team of Puskas and Di Stefano drew 135,000 to Hampden Park for their 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in one of the greatest club matches of all time.
United versus Real is a tie whose history goes back almost to the dawn of the competition – to a Madrid victory over Matt Busby’s team in the 1957 semi-final, in fact, when Duncan Edwards, Dennis Viollet and Roger Byrne competed against Di Stefano, Gento and Raymond Kopa – and whose appeal transcends loyalties: few neutrals could remain unmoved by the prospect of the matches to come, first at the Bernabeu on February 13th and then at Old Trafford on March 5th.
“It’s the game everybody wanted to see and nobody wanted to see because everybody wanted to save it for later in the competition,” John Alexander, United’s club secretary said.
Certainly the tie will have the emotional weight of a final, given that it pits a side with a record nine wins in the competition against opponents looking for the fourth title that would lift them to joint-fourth place in the all-time table, alongside Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Ajax.
On the pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to his old club will be a focus of attention, with Robin van Persie keen to show himself capable of matching the goalscoring feats of United’s former number seven.
The star of the 2008 European Cup-winning side, Ronaldo played his last game for the English club in the following year’s final, which they lost to Barcelona, before his £80 million (€98m) move to Madrid.