Champions League Draw

Champions League Draw, Defending champion Barcelona got the luck of the draw on Friday and will play Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Champions League.

As Barcelona avoided a long trip to Russia in freezing cold February temperatures, that arduous task fell to rival Real Madrid, which will play CSKA Moscow.

“For us, the most important thing is not to play in Russia, for the temperatures and the distance,” Barcelona director Amador Bernabeu told The Associated Press.

The draw also set up a pair of Italy-England clashes. Arsenal will face AC Milan and Chelsea was drawn to play Napoli.

Also, it was: Marseille vs. Inter Milan; FC Basel vs. Bayern Munich; Lyon vs. APOEL Nicosia; and Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Benfica.

The first legs will be played Feb. 14-15 and 21-22, with the return matches scheduled for March 6-7 and 13-14.

With the two Russian teams unseeded after finishing runner-up in their groups, two seeded teams were sure to be sent on the long journey north.

“It will be a key factor. The weather and the temperature, we’re not used to that,” Madrid director Emilio Butragueno said. “We have to be very careful.”

Milan director Umberto Gandini recalled that Arsenal eliminated the seven-time European champions at the same stage in 2008.

“It’s a rematch of Arsenal beating us 2-0 at the San Siro. It will be a great match,” Gandini said.

Arsenal has already eliminated an Italian opponent, beating Udinese in the playoff round in August.

Napoli, which has never played in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, proved itself against English opposition by getting four points against Manchester City in their group.

“It will be difficult having seen Napoli when they were in the same group as Man City,” Chelsea club secretary David Barnard said. “Unfortunately City are no longer with us, which reflects the quality of Napoli.”

APOEL, the first Cypriot club to reach the knockout round, shaped as the weakest of the seeded clubs and was paired with Lyon.

“We must not speak only of luck,” Lyon president Jean Michel Aulas said. “APOEL have been exceptional in the first round and drew all three of their away matches.”

Benfica also goes to Russia to play Zenit St. Petersburg, while two match-ups are almost local derbies. Bayern has the short journey to Basel on the Swiss-German border and Inter has the fewest possible kilometers (miles) to travel to face Marseille.

Bayern beat Basel home and away in last season’s group stage, but the Swiss champions have since stepped up to eliminate Manchester United this month.

“It must be our objective to win,” Basel vice president Bernhard Heusler said. “There is a big solidarity among the players and anything is possible.”

With the final played in Munich on May 19, Bayern is looking to be the first team playing a Champions League or European Cup final in its home stadium since AS Roma in 1984.
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