Manchester United to Meet Inter Milan

20/12/2008 15:23


Manchester United will continue its defense of the Champions League title against Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan after the teams were drawn to meet in the next round on Friday.

Mourinho, who tussled regularly with United during a three-year stint with Chelsea and won the 2004 title with FC Porto, will welcome the Red Devils to San Siro on Feb. 24 before taking his team to England two weeks later.

“It’s interesting to come up against Jose again,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “He’s a character with a good personality and I’ve always got on well with him.

“He’s knocked us out of the competition with Porto, so I hope we have the luck they had in that tie this time round.”

The meeting between the Serie A leaders and the Premier League champions was just one of three pitting English and Italian clubs against each other in the round of 16.

Chelsea, last season’s runner-up, will come up against former coach Claudio Ranieri after being drawn against Juventus, while Arsenal will play AS Roma.

Bayern Munich, which won the last of its four titles in 2000, was handed a meeting with Sporting Lisbon in Friday’s draw, while record nine-time winner Real Madrid will meet Liverpool in a rerun of the 1981 final.

In-form Spanish league leader Barcelona will meet Lyon, Atletico Madrid comes up against FC Porto, and Villarreal was drawn against Panathinaikos.

United’s meeting with Inter is arguably the most glamorous. United beat Inter in the quarterfinals on its way to the 1999 title, but has fared less well in Milan since — going out to AC Milan, which shares a stadium with Inter, twice in the past four seasons.

United and Inter, which have won the European crown just five times between them, have dominated their domestic leagues recently and Mourinho is well known to United fans.

He famously celebrated his Porto team’s advancing past United at the same stage in 2004 by running up and down the Old Trafford touchline to the ire of the home fans.

After winning the title, Mourinho went to Chelsea and led the Blues to two Premier League titles. His run of just one loss in 10 matches against United and Ferguson included a 1-0 win in the 2007 FA Cup final.

“Mr. Mourinho knows English football very well, and this can help us,” Inter managing director Ernesto Paolillo said. “We have the right number of players, and the right quality of players to reach the final.”

Ranieri will be greeted much more warmly, with Chelsea fans getting the chance to show their continued appreciation for the man who was fired by owner Roman Abramovich — to make way for Mourinho — despite reaching the Champions League semifinal in 2004.

Blues supporters chanted the popular Italian’s name and unfurled banners in his honor when it became obvious that Abramovich was searching for a replacement well before the end of that season.

Ranieri joined Juventus in June 2007 and guided the team to third place in Serie A — and Champions League qualification — in its first season back in the top flight following its forced demotion for match-fixing.

“Any team at this stage of the competition is obviously quality but it could have been a lot worse, maybe Barcelona,” Chelsea secretary David Barnard said. “It obviously brings back Claudio Ranieri to the Bridge and I am sure Claudio will get a good reception from the Chelsea supporters.”

Most clubs, though, were just thankful to avoid Barcelona. Although the Catalan team was largely unimpressive in winning its first-round group, it has scored 46 goals in 15 Spanish league matches and boasts an intimidating strike force of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Bojan Krkic.

“I am very worried,” Lyon sporting director Bernard Lacombe said. “Lyon couldn’t have found a worse adversary. Barca has the best players in Europe in its squad.

“It’s mission impossible, equivalent to you asking me to jump over the crossbar with both feet tied.”