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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Dec 15, 2006

Champions League holders relishing Liverpool test

Barcelona president Joan Laporta hailed the prospect of 'an extraordinary tie' after the reigning European champions were pitted against 2005 winners Liverpool in today's draw for the Champions League knockout stages.

Chelsea will face manager Jose Mourinho's old club Porto over two legs in February and March, Manchester United have a chance to set the record straight against Lille, Arsenal face Dutch League pacesetters PSV Eindhoven, while Celtic need to get the better of AC Milan in the other ties involving British clubs.

Laporta, whose club are currently in Japan for the Club World Cup, said after today's draw in Nyon: 'It will be a meeting between the last two champions, so it is going to be an extraordinary tie.

'I am happy with the draw, Liverpool are a team that I had a preference for in order to face at this stage.

'Liverpool are powerful opponents who play very physical football and have players that we know very well, such as Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso.

'Let's not forget, we are the team to beat this season.'

Laporta is also happy for his team to be travelling to Liverpool. He continued: 'It's the city where the Beatles were born and it will be very interesting.

'I really like the Beatles and I think it will be very entertaining to go to The Cavern and visit the city, it will an added incentive in this draw.'

Barcelona director Josep Cubells felt the history of the Catalan giants, who are the holders after beating Arsenal in May's final, and Liverpool only added to attractiveness of their tie.

'Both are legendary clubs with very glamorous stadiums and enthusiastic supporters,' he said, before warning the Reds: 'Winning the last Champions League made the team stronger mentally.'

Liverpool club secretary Bryce Morrison was delighted his club have been paired with the holders.

'They don't come much bigger than that. We are relishing these games,' he said, recollecting Liverpool's Champions League glory season of 2004-05.

'We hope we can go all the way once again, starting with this big one.'

Rafael Benitez said: ``We have a stronger squad now from the one that won the Champions League. If we did not have injury problems the squad is better.

``Once we have all the players fit like Sissoko, Zenden and Kewell, we have a better squad and maybe a better team.''

While Benitez is excited about the draw, the former Valencia boss and Real Madrid reserve team manager claims the game is nothing special for him.

He said: 'I like to win against every team but especially ones with good players. It is not really special for me personally. I just want my players to be successful.

'The players will be excited at the prospect of facing Barcelona, not frightened. When we won the Champions League we played against Leverkusen, Olympiakos, Juventus, Chelsea and AC Milan.

'We have experience and my players will be happy playing first of all in the Nou Camp then back at Anfield trying to win the game.'

Benitez claims Liverpool will have nothing to lose in the tie, given Barcelona's growing reputation and current status as Europe's top team.

He said: 'It is a very difficult draw as people talk about Barcelona as one of the best teams in the world. Okay, we will see. We are not playing against them now but in two months and we will see what happens then.

'The positive view is we don't have anything to lose. Barcelona are favourites to win the tie. But I know my players will be focused on beating them as they are disappointed at going out of the Champions League to Benfica last season.'

Former Celtic striker Charlie Nicholas believes AC Milan's current lowly standing in Serie A will count for nothing when the knockout phase gets under way and they face the Scottish champions.

He told Sky Sports News: 'On current form, it would be nice to get them now but, come February, it is a different thing.

'With players like Kaka and Filippo Inzaghi, they are a problem. 'In February, it will be tougher than it looks now but Celtic were always going to face a tough one.

'I am relatively pleased because I didn't want them to get a `Battle of Britain' thing - it has been done too much.'

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