Ferguson relishes chance of all-English quarter-final
Friday 14 March 2008
Sir Alex Ferguson was yesterday a lone dissenting voice from the four English clubs that will be involved in today's lunchtime draw for the Champions League quarter-finals in relishing the prospect of an all-Premier League tie.
Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, along with Barcelona, Roma, Schalke and Fenerbahce, will discover who they will face in the last eight shortly after a midday draw in Nyon, Switzerland.
With no seeding or country protection, one would expect England's big four to prefer to avoid each other. Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, and the captains of Liverpool and Chelsea, Steven Gerrard and John Terry, are among those who agree. All would undoubtedly be pleased to receive a passage perceived to be easier, against a side such as Turkey's Fenerbahce or Germany's Schalke.
But ahead of a ceremony that will define English clubs' chances of monopolising the event – the semi-final match-ups will also be made today – Ferguson was nothing if not bullish.
"We will relish the chance to face another English team in the quarter-finals if that happens," he said. "I don't think it matters who you play – they are all difficult games."
Manchester United are unique among the Premier League clubs in not having faced domestic opponents in the Champions League before. Chelsea and Arsenal met in the quarter-finals in 2004, with Chelsea winning. Chelsea and Liverpool have met three times, twice in the knockout stages.
Liverpool beat Chelsea in the semi-finals in 2005 and went on to win the tournament, and again at the same stage last season, when they then lost in the final against Milan, their opponents in 2005 also. Gerrard wants to avoid another meeting as long as possible. "If it happens then we will deal with it but it would be nice to avoid the English teams for as long as possible," he said.
Terry said he would prefer to avoid domestic opposition. "We've missed out in this competition on a few occasions and we want to make the final step and get our hands on the trophy."
Wenger said: "I would say that every English team, if they are honest, would prefer to play a foreign team. It's a bit more Europe, you know? It becomes more of a domestic competition when you play a local team. Ideally you would want to play a foreign team but if we have to overcome an English hurdle we'll do it as well."
The quarter-final first legs will be played on 1 and 2 April, with the return matches scheduled for 8 and 9 April.
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