The veracity of AC Milan's resurgence in Italy's Serie A is set to be put to the test when Barcelona visit the San Siro on Wednesday for the first leg of a last 16 tie in the Champions League.
After their worst ever start to a league campaign the Rossoneri have climbed to third
place and within touch of securing one of the three Champions League places for next year.
However their survival in this year's competition could depend on a strong showing in Milan ahead of a return to the formidable surroundings of the Nou Camp on March 12.
Although billed, by Milan, as a match between 'the best of the world' -- Milan are seven-time European champions while Barca, four-time winners, are widely considered the strongest team in the world -- the Spanish league leaders have the bragging rights.
The last time the two sides met, in last season's competition, Barcelona came away from the San Siro with a scoreless draw in the first leg of the quarter-final, before winning 3-1 at home to secure a semifinal spot.
Only four months earlier, Barcelona emerged from Milan with a 3-2 win on their way to topping the group ahead of Milan, while in the 2006 semi-finals the Catalans won 1-0 to virtually secure their place in the final.
Since the recent acquisition of striker Mario Balotelli, Milan have continued making up for their disastrous start to sit third in the league, 11 points behind leaders Juventus.
But because he played in this season's competition with Manchester City, Balotelli is Cup-tied for the remaining Champions League fixtures.
That paves the way for the likes of Bojan Krkic, formerly of Barcelona, to step up for a game that will have special emotional significance as well as being a crucial step in Milan's roller-coaster season.
Barca currently hold a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga but will travel to Milan without coach Tito Vilanova as he continues treatment in New York to help him recover from a throat cancer operation he underwent last year.
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