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AC Milan could face Liverpool again

The two clubs, which have won Europe's top club trophy a combined 12 times, are among the 16 teams in Friday's draw for the first knockout round.

sports Updated: Dec 20, 2007 18:25 IST

Last season's finalists _ AC Milan and Liverpool _ could face each other in the second round of the Champions League for their third meeting in four seasons.

The two clubs, which have won Europe's top club trophy a combined 12 times, are among the 16 teams in Friday's draw for the first knockout round.

Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in Athens, Greece, in May for its seventh title, two seasons after the English club came from 3-0 down at halftime to draw 3-3 and then edge the Italian team on penalties. Friday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland, pits the eight group winners against the eight runners-up, meaning there could also be a repeat of the 2006 final between FC Barcelona and Arsenal. The eight group winners are FC Porto, Chelsea, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona, Manchester United, Inter Milan and Sevilla. They will meet runners-up Liverpool, Schalke, Olympiakos, Celtic, Lyon, AS Roma, Fenerbahce and Arsenal.

Because teams from the same country or same first-round group can't face each other, the four English Premier League survivors won't meet each other. Neither will the three Serie A or three Spanish league teams.

"There are a few teams that could be dangerous and would be better to avoid like Liverpool, Arsenal and Lyon," Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "We'll see, but luckily we have the advantage of playing the second game at home."

Five-time champion Liverpool, which had been on the verge of early elimination this season, thrashed Marseille 4-0 to reach the last 16.

"These are good times for us at the moment," Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said then. "We are playing well and with confidence. It's not a problem who we play against now. All of them are good sides but we are just enjoying ourselves."

The draw format means group winner and English champion Manchester United is limited to meeting Schalke, Olympiakos, Celtic, Lyon or Fenerbahce, which appears comparatively easy. Premier League leader Arsenal, however, could face any of FC Porto, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona or Inter Milan, which looks far tougher.

"I feel for us maybe it is not necessarily a disadvantage to play the big clubs," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "At least the big clubs will play (soccer) as well."

Scottish champion and standings leader Celtic can't face AC Milan, having played the defending champion in the group phase. But Gordon Strachan's team could get Inter Milan, which is the Serie A champion and standings leader. That would be a repeat of the 1967 final, which Celtic won 2-1 in Lisbon.

Strachan could also face his former manager Alex Ferguson, if the Hoops draw Manchester United.

Although the two Scots had a fallout, Strachan, who played for Ferguson both at Aberdeen and Manchester United, says they are friendly again.

"I said he was a bully but I never said I didn't like him," Strachan said. "He was good for me. He's good for anyone who's worked with him. Unless you're weak-minded then you'll have a problem, he'll probably crush you. You'd have to go and find another job somewhere, or find a psychiatrist.

"I think he's the best manager of all-time." The first legs of the knockout round are Feb. 19 and 20, with the return games on March 4-5. The group winners have the advantage of playing the second legs at home.

The draw for the 32 teams in the UEFA Cup will also be held Friday. The field includes eight clubs which finished third in their Champions League groups: Marseille, Rosenborg, Werder Bremen, Benfica, Rangers, Sporting Lisbon, PSV Eindhoven and Slavia Prague.