Ronaldo could face Real Madrid

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The Independent Football

Cristiano Ronaldo could line up against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League after Manchester United secured top spot in their group last night while the Spanish giants could only finish as runners-up in their pool.

The 23-year-old Portugal winger, the subject of much publicised but ultimately unsuccessful interest from Madrid over the summer, sat out last night's game with a hip injury as the Red Devils secured first place in Group E.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side could only manage a 2-2 draw at home to Aalborg but it was, nevertheless, a record-equalling 19th unbeaten Champions League game and earns them home advantage for the second leg of the first knockout round next spring.

The prospect of playing the Spanish champions in the last 16 was brought to Ferguson's attention last night after his side assured top spot.

The Scot has been at loggerheads for most of the year with Madrid over their pursuit of Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo, with president Ramon Calderon singled out for most of Ferguson's ire.

"That would be a nice party wouldn't it?" he said of a potential trip to the Bernabeu in late February.

"I look forward to tea and biscuits with Ramon Calderon."

Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Sporting Lisbon and Lyon are other possible opponents for the holders after all finished second in their respective groups.

Madrid, who thumped UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg 3-0 at the Bernabeu last night in Juande Ramos' first game at the helm, missed out to Juventus for top spot in Group H despite the Bianconeri being held to a goalless draw by minnows BATE Borisov.

Other than a potential clash with United in the last 16, former Sevilla and Tottenham coach Ramos faces the possibility of meeting three competition winners over the past eight years in Liverpool (2005), Porto (2004) and Bayern Munich (2001) as well as Sporting Lisbon, Roma or Panathinaikos.

Madrid sporting director Predrag Mijatovic admitted he would prefer to see his side drawn against the Greek outfit.

"I don't want to be disrespectful to anybody, because they are all great teams and they have proven it, but if I had to chose one, perhaps it would be Panathinaikos," he said.

Pana pipped Inter to the number one position in Group B on Tuesday night with a 1-0 home victory over Anorthosis Famagusta while Jose Mourinho's side lost 2-1 at Werder Bremen.

Mourinho could next find his troops up against his former team Porto, who he led to Champions League glory four years ago before immediately departing for Chelsea.

The Portuguese could also potentially be set to return to another former stomping ground in Barcelona, where he worked as an interpreter in the early 1990s. The Spanish champions topped Group C despite Tuesday's 3-2 defeat at home to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Another possibility facing Inter in the December 19 draw in Nyon will be a tie against Liverpool, with whom Mourinho faced many a battle during his three-year stint at Stamford Bridge, although a draw against Chelsea is not on the agenda just yet.

The Blues clawed their way past CFR Cluj 2-1 on Tuesday but Roma's 2-0 triumph over Bordeaux saw the Eternal City giants cling on to first place in Group A.

Last season's beaten finalists Chelsea are looking at playing Pana, Barcelona, Bayern, Porto or Claudio Ranieri's Juve in the last 16.

For Pep Guardiola's Barca, the only possible opponents other than Chelsea and Inter are Arsenal and French champions Lyon.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists his side fear nobody, despite last night's 2-0 defeat at Porto seeing the Gunners slip to second in Group G.

"We can fight with everybody in Europe and can qualify against anybody," said the Frenchman, whose team face a first knockout-round meeting with one of Barca, Roma, Panathinaikos, Bayern or Juve.