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Paris Saint-Germain to face Real Madrid in last 16 after draw farce

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Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos (right) fights for the ball with Club Brugge defender Federico Ricca during the UEFA Champions League first round Day 6 Group A football match on December 7. AFP

Paris Saint-Germain to face Real Madrid in last 16 after draw farce

Paris Saint-Germain will play Real Madrid while Liverpool take on Inter Milan in two of the standout ties in the last 16 of the Champions League after an embarrassed UEFA was forced to redo Monday’s draw following a “technical problem”.

PSG had initially been paired together with Manchester United in a tie that would have seen old rivals Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo come up against one another.

However, the reworked draw sees them play record 13-time European champions Real while the Old Trafford side will face Spanish champions Atletico Madrid.

UEFA had earlier blamed a “material error” due to a “technical problem with the software of an external service provider” as it announced that the draw for the first knockout round of its flagship competition would have to be redone three hours later.

With the draw being streamed live from UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, the problem was made evident when Manchester United’s name was drawn to face Villarreal, despite the fact the two clubs could not have played one another having been in the same group.

The ball containing United’s name did not then appear to be replaced correctly and so they were not included as possible opponents for the next team to come out of the pot.

With the whole draw compromised, a red-faced UEFA was left with little choice but to start again.

Qatar-owned PSG, with their array of attacking stars in Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria, now face a Real side currently top of La Liga, managed by former Paris coach Carlo Ancelotti.

The Spaniards knocked PSG out at the same stage in 2017/18 and relations between the clubs have recently been at a low ebb with Real openly courting the signature of Mbappe, whose contract expires at the end of this season.

Madrid are unlikely to be happy with the new draw as they had initially been given an easier tie on paper against Benfica in the very first match-up before the problems occurred.

“It was surprising, shameful and difficult to understand considering millions of viewers were waiting for the draw,” Madrid’s director of institutional relations, former player Emilio Butragueno, told the club’s television channel.

Holders Chelsea face Lille

Liverpool had initially been drawn against knockout-phase debutants Red Bull Salzburg of Austria. They now face three-time former winners Inter, the Serie A champions and current Italian league leaders.

Jurgen Klopp’s side beat Inter’s city rivals AC Milan twice in the group stage.

Salzburg instead got six-time winners Bayern Munich, while last season’s beaten finalists Manchester City take on Sporting Lisbon and Benfica will play Ajax.

City had initially been paired with Villarreal but coach Pep Guardiola accepted that a new draw was the only fair solution.

“I think it is fair. It was a mistake but sometimes these things can happen. If there was a mistake you have to repeat so it is not suspicious,” he said.

Villarreal now face Juventus, while the one tie in the original, botched draw that was repeated later sees reigning champions Chelsea face French title-holders Lille.

Thomas Tuchel’s side, who could have been paired with Bayern or Madrid having come second behind Juventus in Group H, will be relieved at that draw.

United’s tie against Atletico means the Spanish club coming up against Ronaldo, who has knocked them out of the competition five times in the last decade, including winning two Madrid derby finals when with Real.

The first legs will be played in the second half of February with second legs in early March.

This season’s final will be played in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg on May 28.

The mess-up with the draw comes at a bad time for the European game’s governing body, at the end of a year in which relations with some of the continent’s biggest clubs were soured by the botched attempt at a breakaway 12-team Super League.

UEFA will soon introduce a new format for the Champions League group stage from 2024 that will see the number of clubs increase from 32 to 36 with each team guaranteed 10 group games compared to the current six.

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