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Saturday, December 20, 2008

English clubs handed tough task

England's chances of producing three semi-finalists in the Champions League for the third successive season were dented on Friday by a tough-looking last 16 draw.

Holders Manchester United were paired with Italian champions and Serie A leaders Inter Milan while Premier League leaders Liverpool take on nine-times champions Real Madrid after the draw made at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

Last year's runners-up Chelsea were paired with Juventus, managed by former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri, while Arsenal, finalists in 2006, play AS Roma in a third Anglo-Italian clash.

The Manchester United tie will see another former Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho, returning to face Premiership opposition in his new role in charge of Inter.

"Obviously Jose has put us out of the competition before," said United's communications director Phil Townsend in reference to Mourinho's success at the same stage in 2004 with eventual European champions Porto.

"But equally we put Inter out in 1999 when we went on to win the tournament so maybe that's a good omen for us."

Real Madrid's meeting with Liverpool will mark only the second time that the Spanish nine-time European champions have met the English five-time winners in the competition.

Their only previous encounter came in the final of the 1981 European Cup with Liverpool winning through 1-0.

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