Football: Neymar, Ronaldo to vie for Europe glory

Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar, the world's most expensive player, will come up against five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, the highest scorer in Champions League history.
Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar, the world's most expensive player, will come up against five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, the highest scorer in Champions League history.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PSG-Real Madrid Champions League last-16 clash pits Brazilian against Portuguese rival

NYON (Switzerland) • Neymar craved a new challenge when he signed for Paris Saint-Germain and the world's most expensive player will be given a run for his money.

Tipped as a future Ballon d'Or winner, the Brazilian will come up against incumbent Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League last 16 after the French side drew the holders Real Madrid yesterday.

PSG showed just how serious they are about winning Europe's elite club competition when they signed Neymar from Barcelona in the close season for €222 million (S$353.7 million), before adding Kylian Mbappe, who will cost €180 million when his loan deal becomes permanent next year.

The quarter-finals are the furthest the big-spending club have progressed in the Champions League since they were bought by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011. Four straight appearances in the last eight, however, were followed by a last-16 finish last season, when they were stunned by Barcelona in the second leg, losing 1-6 after beating the Spanish giants 4-0 in Paris.

And PSG ambassador Maxwell said the Real tie threw up the chance for them to atone for their last campaign.

"It's a beautiful challenge for the club," he said. "I think we're ready for that."

  • CHAMPIONS LEAGUE LAST 16 DRAW

  • Basel (Sui) v Manchester City (Eng)

    Bayern Munich (Ger) v Besiktas (Tur)

    Chelsea (Eng) v Barcelona (Esp)

    Juventus (Ita) v Tottenham Hotspur (Eng)

    Porto (Por) v Liverpool (Eng)

    Real Madrid (Esp) v Paris Saint-Germain (Fra)

    Sevilla (Esp) v Manchester United (Eng)

    Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukr) v Roma (Ita)

    1st legs: Feb 13-14 and 20-21

    2nd legs: March 6-7 and 13-14

  • EUROPA LEAGUE LAST 32 DRAW

    Borussia Dortmund (Ger) v Atalanta (Ita)

    Nice (Fra) v Lokomotiv Moscow (Rus)

    Copenhagen (Den) v Atletico Madrid (Esp)

    Spartak Moscow (Rus) v Athletic Bilbao (Esp)

    AEK Athens (Gre) v Dynamo Kiev (Ukr)

    Celtic (Sco) v Zenit St Petersburg (Rus)

    Napoli (Ita) v RB Leipzig (Ger)

    Red Star Belgrade (Srb) v CSKA Moscow (Rus)

    Lyon (Fra) v Villarreal (Esp)

    Real Sociedad (Esp) v Salzburg (Aut)

    Partizan Belgrade (Srb) v Viktoria Plzen (Cze)

    Steaua Bucharest (Rom) v Lazio (Ita)

    Ludogorets (Bul) v AC Milan (Ita)

    Astana (Kaz) v Sporting Lisbon (Por)

    Ostersund (Swe) v Arsenal (Eng)

    Marseille (Fra) v Braga (Por)

    1st legs: Feb 15

    2nd legs: Feb 22

Real, the 12-time European champions, boast the most prolific goal-scorer in the competition's history in Ronaldo (114). And they acknowledged that they will be meeting a fellow favourite prematurely.

"This could have been the final, given the power of the two clubs," said Real's director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueno.

"Every summer, they have signed great players. They get stronger all the time and they have had a nearly impeccable group stage.

"With Neymar and Mbappe, they have improved a lot up front. They are a very dangerous team who will demand the best of us. We need to face both games like finals and for the fans, it will be a thrilling tie."

Another mouth-watering clash following the draw at Uefa's headquarters in Nyon pits Barcelona against English champions Chelsea.

The LaLiga leaders will be wary of Chelsea, who have four wins to three in their last 12 Champions League meetings, their most recent at the 2012 semi-finals as the London side marched to the title.

The Blues have managed to shut out Barcelona star Lionel Messi so far. The forward has faced them eight times without scoring from 29 shots - the worst record against a club in his career.

But Chelsea manager Antonio Conte knows his men will have no margin for error when the Champions League resumes in February.

"Against Barca, you have to be at 120 per cent," he told a press conference yesterday ahead of his side's Premier League clash at Huddersfield today. "Our priority is the league and to stay up and fight for the Champions League place - at this moment. When it is the moment to play Barcelona, then we will start thinking about it."

The other English qualifiers would have been reasonably content with their opponents, especially Manchester City.

While Swiss side Basel are a formidable side at home and have some big English scalps at home in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola's side will be big favourites to progress.

Tottenham will face Juventus for the first time while Manchester United and Sevilla have also never met before.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'Neymar, Ronaldo to vie for Europe glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe