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Dazzling duo raise the stakes

The UEFA Champions League quarter-final draw threw up sequels to two recent finals but it is the exploits of Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney that should really set pulses racing.

Dazzling duo raise the stakes
Dazzling duo raise the stakes ©UEFA.com

The UEFA Champions League quarter-final lineup rekindles happy memories for FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC as they come up against rivals from two of their most famous triumphs.

Holders Barcelona meet Arsenal FC in a rematch of their 2006 final victory while United take on FC Bayern München, so reviving that dramatic 1999 Camp Nou success. It is the exploits of current players, though, that should set pulses racing as Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney blaze a trail across Europe.

Messi, who missed the 2006 final through injury, has been in phenomenal form for the Blaugrana, his two goals in the 4-0 rout of VfB Stuttgart sandwiched by a pair of Liga hat-tricks. Arsenal, too, are hitting form when it matters most with their captain Cesc Fàbregas out to impress against the club with whom he began his career.

Fàbregas and Messi played together at youth level and who makes the greater impact on 31 March and 6 April could determine which club advances. Another intriguing sub-plot will see long-time Arsenal favourite Thierry Henry face his former team for the first time in London, when two of the continent's most free-flowing forces collide.

After knocking five past FC Porto in their round of 16 second leg, Arsenal are the competition's 17-goal top scorers, with United one behind. Like Messi, Rooney has registered 32 goals so far this term with four in the UEFA Champions League, all against AC Milan.

If United are an ominous prospect for Bayern, the Bundesliga outfit can at least feel they have already exorcised the demons of 1999, having knocked out United in 2000/01 en route to claiming their last European title. They have match-winners of their own as Arjen Robben proved with his breathtaking strike at ACF Fiorentina, and winger Franck Ribéry should be available after injury.

French eyes, though, will be on 'le quart de finale 100% français' as Olympique Lyonnais host FC Girondins de Bordeaux. While Laurent Blanc's Bordeaux are one of the season's surprise packages, Lyon achieved one of the biggest upsets in eliminating Real Madrid CF.

Les Gones will hope to repeat the feat as these domestic rivals vie to become the first French semi-finalists since AS Monaco FC in 2003/04. Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux, though, are the form team having won seven straight UEFA Champions League games, and they boast the meanest defence with three goals conceded.

For the first time since 1998/99, six nations are represented in the last eight, with PFC CSKA Moskva entering uncharted territory as Russia's first quarter-finalists of the UEFA Champions League era. Tests do not get much tougher than against an FC Internazionale Milano side high on confidence after scalping Chelsea FC.

José Mourinho rose to the challenge against his old club, but the real target is to emulate legendary Inter coach Helenio Herrera and lift the trophy for the first time in 45 years.