Two titans of the UEFA Champions League will clash again in the Round of 16, after Real Madrid CF and FC Bayern München were paired together for the fourth time in seven seasons.
Nine-time European champions Madrid have prevailed in the last two two-legged encounters, ending Bayern's campaigns in 2001/02 and 2003/04, but overall they have a mixed record against German opposition, especially the giants from the Bavarian capital. Los Merengues' heaviest defeats in Europe's premier club competition, both home and away, came against Bayern, and that perhaps explains Felix Magath's sanguine response to the prospect of a first-leg trip to the Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday 20 February. "This is a blow but you have to take it as it comes," he said. "And to be honest, I like going to Spain because it is a bit warmer over there."
Magath had given a lot of importance to finishing top of a group that included FC Internazionale Milano and Sporting Clube de Portugal - the benefits of playing the second leg of this last-16 tie at home outweighing the temptation to rest star players having sealed progress with two games to spare. But the German team know they must keep Madrid at bay in the first match if they are to give themselves a chance of a fifth continental crown – no mean feat against the top scorers in this term's competition. Striker Roy Makaay is not cowed, however: "We have a blank script and just have to ensure we use our advantage in the second match."
There is a Dutch flavour to the tie, with former PSV Eindhoven colleagues Mark van Bommel and Ruud van Nistelrooy also likely to play on opposite sides. The Madrid forward scored four goals in the group stage, and if his team sometimes failed to sparkle, sporting director Pedrag Mijatović remains confident that by the end of the second leg at the Fußball Arena München on Wednesday 7 March, the Spanish heavyweights will have advanced to the quarter-finals. "We can be satisfied," he said. "Bayern are a good side, very competitive, with a lot of history, but I think we can go through. We must respect Bayern, though I'm delighted to have avoided Manchester [United FC] and Chelsea [FC]."
For veteran defender Roberto Carlos, it did not matter who Madrid were pitted against as the result will be the same. "Madrid are Madrid and the Champions League is our competition. This is going to be our year and we will succeed whoever our opponents are," he said. "We know Bayern well and are always pushed to the limit against them - but we can win."
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