Ronaldo v Messi: Icons to renew Champions League rivalry

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are set to meet in the Champions League after Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain were paired together in Monday’s draw for the last 16 of this season’s tournament.

The tie between the English and French giants is one to capture the imagination as two of football’s all-time greats will renew their rivalry in Europe’s elite club competition.

Elsewhere in the draw, defending champions Chelsea appeared to be given a kind tie – at least on paper – as they meet French team Lille.

Last season’s losing finalists Manchester City face Villarreal of Spain, while German giants Bayern Munich – tipped as among the strong favorites this season – will face Atletico Madrid.

Real Madrid, record 13-time winners of the tournament, meet Benfica of Portugal.

Liverpool, who emerged with a perfect record in the group stage, will play Austrian knockout debutants FC Salzburg.   

THE FULL DRAW

  • Benfica (Portugal) vs Real Madrid (Spain)
  • Villarreal (Spain) vs Manchester City (England)
  • Atletico Madrid (Spain) vs Bayern Munich (Germany)
  • FC Salzburg (Austria) vs Liverpool (England)
  • Inter Milan (Italy) vs Ajax (Netherlands)
  • Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) vs Juventus (Italy)
  • Chelsea (England) vs Lille (France)
  • Paris Saint-Germain (France) vs Manchester United (England)

Ronaldo and Messi last faced off in the Champions League during last season’s group stage when the pair were at Juventus and Barcelona respectively.

Both have since completed shock transfer moves, with Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford and Messi making the switch to Paris during the summer.

As the pair play out the twilights of their careers – with Ronaldo 36 and Messi 34 – fans will relish another chance to see them on the same stage, having enjoyed so many years of their rivalry in Spain when the Portuguese star was at Real Madrid.

Although Messi recently added another Ballon d’Or to his collection – taking him to seven accolades to Ronaldo’s five – it is Ronaldo who has enjoyed more success in the Champions League down the years. 

The Portugal icon has won the title five times to Messi’s four, and Ronaldo is also the leading all-time top scorer in the competition with 140 goals in 181 appearances.

He has shown no sign of slowing down since returning to Manchester United, scoring six times in five Champions League appearances this season to help United finish top of Group F. 

Messi has 125 goals in his 154 matches in the tournament, including five this season in five appearances in PSG colors. 

The last 16 ties will take place across two legs, the first of which will be spread across February 15, 16, 22 and 23.

The return legs will be played on March 8, 9, 15 and 16.

The seeded teams (who won their groups) will all be away for the first legs and will play the second legs at home.

A rule change for the knockout stages means that the away-goals rule is no longer in force. Any ties that are level after 180 minutes across two legs will go to extra-time and potentially penalties.  

This season’s Champions League final will be held in St. Petersburg at the 68,000-seater Gazprom Arena, which is home to Russian champions Zenit.

Former Zenit and Arsenal star Andrey Arshavin was part of Monday’s draw ceremony at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland.   

“People love football [in St. Petersburg], it’s a big event for our city, everyone dreams of holding such a big event,” said Arshavin of the final in his hometown, which is scheduled for May 28.

Many will be thankful to Arshavin for playing his part in pairing Ronaldo and Messi together for what could be one of the last times we see them on the same pitch. 

 

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