Friday, 19 March 2010

Messi or Arshavin: It's the battle of the diddymen as Barcelona and Arsenal are drawn to meet in the Champions League quarter-final

Andrei Arshavin or Lionel Messi? It’s the battle of the diddymen after Arsenal were drawn to play favourites and holders Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals today.
And of course, it’s Messi every time for the aficionados. The 5ft 7in Argentine, who required growth hormone treatment when he first arrived in Spain as a tiny teenager, is simply unstoppable. His second-half hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Valencia on Sunday was something to savour.
Russian Arshavin stands just half-an-inch taller, has no history of growth hormone, and can occasionally produce the magic. But like most of the other match-ups between the Gunners and the Catlanan giants, it’s Barca who have the edge.
And of course, the whole thing will be played to the backdrop of Thierry Henry returning to North London, where he established himself as a world class star and record goal-scorer. We must assume that Henry will play with is feet, rather than his hands, as he did so controversially for France in that disgusting World Cup play-off incident against the Republic of Ireland. Interesting to see what kind of reception Henry receives at the Emirates on March 31 – if he plays, and that’s no longer a certainty.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, whose side face West Ham in the late Premier League match tomorrow, admits: “If you go to the bookmakers and try to place a few pounds, you will see that we are not favourites against Barcelona. But we must focus on us, not on the opposition.
"Of course they are a good side, but so are we. For me, we have a 50-50 game - if we turn up with our best performance we have a good chance to beat them.
"It will be an interesting, exciting game. We have to make sure we have the belief and focus right."
No Gooner needs remind of the last time the sides met – in the final at Paris four years ago, when Barca triumphed 2-1.
Similar memories will dominate Manchester United’s clash against Bayern Munich. They met in the 1999 final when the late great George Best (and many others) left the Nou Camp with a minute to go and his old side 1-0 down. History tells us Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer scored in the dying moments to secure a 2-1 victory and a first European Cup for 33 years. And this time they have Wayne Rooney in the form of his life.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge accepts: “United are a team ranked right at the top, they are the favourites, but that is where the attraction lies, to try to beat a favourite."
And of course we already know what happens if United win – the draw this morning included the semi-final route, where they will meet former Red Devil Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux or fellow Frenchmen Lyon, who put Real Madrid out last week.
Barca – and who could argue against it being them? – will go on to face CSKA Moscow or – more likely - Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan, who conquered Chelsea this week.
In the Europa League, Fulham have been drawn against German champions Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals, and who would bet against them after that fabulous 5-4 victory over Italian giants Juventus last night?
Liverpool face Portuguese side Benfica, who beat Merseyside neighbours Everton 5-0 in the group stages. Valencia and Atletico Madrid meet in an all-Spanish quarter-final Hamburg face Standard Liege.

1st leg:
Tuesday 30 March:
Lyon v Bordeaux
Bayern Munich v Manchester United
Wednesday 31 March:
Arsenal v Barcelona
Inter Milan v CSKA Moscow
2nd leg:
Tuesday 6 April:
Barcelona v Arsenal
CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan
Wednesday 7 April:
Bordeaux v Lyon
Manchester United v Bayern Munich
1st leg:
Tuesday 20 April: Inter Milan/CSKA Moscow v Arsenal/Barcelona
Wednesday 21 April: Bayern Munich/Manchester United v Lyon/Bordeaux
2nd leg:
Tuesday 27 April: Lyon/Bordeaux v Bayern Munich/Manchester United
Wednesday 28 April: Arsenal/Barcelona v Inter Milan/CSKA Moscow

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