PARIS: Manchester United will resume their historic rivalry with Real Madrid on Wednesday night (23:45) with Jose Mourinho talking up the eagerly-awaited Champions League clash as the game “the whole world is waiting for.”
United, the three-time champions, go to Madrid, the record nine-time winners, in the latest instalment of a European rivalry which dates back to 1957.
Their last meeting, in the 2003 quarter-finals, was a goal-laden classic with Real squeezing through 6-5 on aggregate after two breathless encounters.
“It is the match the world is waiting for,” said Mourinho ahead of Wednesday’s last-16, first leg clash.
“The world is not waiting for other matches in the Champions League, so I hope we can give the world what they are waiting for.”
Mourinho spoke in glowing terms about United’s veteran manager and their long-standing friendship and rivalry, one that dates back to Mourinho’s early years in management with Porto in his homeland and his successful spell at Chelsea.
“I feel privileged about that because he is such an important person in the world of football and, more importantly than that, he is a good person,” said Mourinho.
Alex Ferguson said he was ready to lock horns against the colourful Mourinho who was at Old Trafford on Sunday to see United beat Everton 2-0 and stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League to 12 points.
“I think he’ll relish going up against me,” said Ferguson.
“It’s a great challenge, the two biggest clubs in the world. It’s a great game for us.
“I think Jose has set his sights on the European Cup this year, no doubt about that. It makes it harder for us in one way, but for them, too.”
Scottish champions Celtic, who became the first British team to win the competition back in 1967, surprised many by reaching the last-16 and there are genuine hopes of putting up a true challenge against three-time champions Juventus.
Neil Lennon’s outsiders will be carried along on a wave of thunderous support on Tuesday at Parkhead where they famously defeated Barcelona in the group stages.
Paris Saint-Germain go to 2000 and 2001 finalists Valencia in the only other match on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Borussia Dortmund, who won their pool ahead of Real Madrid, are looking to repeat their solitary European Cup triumph of 1997.
Coach Juergen Klopp will get a chance to put his team’s mediocre domestic form to one side when they face a chilly trip to Shakhtar Donetsk and a team who outqualified defending champions Chelsea in the group stage. These four matches complete the first week of action where teams that finished second in their group play the first-leg at home with the return fixtures set for the week of March 5 and 6.