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By ESPN Staff

Fergie wary of Lyon threat

Sir Alex Ferguson feels six-times French champions Lyon represent the toughest task Manchester United could have been given as they look to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

Although Liverpool and Arsenal have been handed more eye-catching ties, with Inter and AC Milan respectively, and Celtic must tackle Barcelona, for United, given their top seeding, a trip to Lyon is about as hard as it could get.

Coached by former Portsmouth manager Alain Perrin, Lyon demolished Rangers at Ibrox to reach the last 16 and Ferguson will need no reminding of how United fell two behind on their last trip to the Stade Gerland in 2004, only for Ruud van Nistelrooy to haul them level with an unexpected brace.

Currently four points clear of Nancy in Le Championnat, Lyon have maintained their dominance of the French game despite the regular loss of key men such as Michael Essien, Eric Abidal and Mahamadou Diarra.

And Ferguson knows his side will need to be at their best if they are to make it through.

'Maybe it is the hardest of the five we could have got,' he said.

'Lyon have won the French championship for the last seven years, which is incredible given the number of players they have lost over the last few years.

'It will not be an easy game but hopefully, by the time we get there we will have all our squad available. That is a pre-requisite for the challenge anyway. If I can pick the team I want I think we will have a good chance.'

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry pulled no punches after being handed a daunting draw against Italian champions Inter Milan.

The Reds face a tough task with Inter again leading Serie A.

Parry said: 'It's a big one but was it going to be whoever we had drawn.

'It's a long time since we played them, they are a very good team. It's going to be tough but there are no easy ones at this stage.

'Every team at this stage is a good team, if you look at who we could have drawn it was never going to be easy so we shall take who we get.

'We've stopped a few hearts the way we have qualified but in the last three games we are clearly in form and scoring goals.'

Inter Milan chief executive Ernesto Paolillo insists his side will make life as difficult as possible for Rafael Benitez's outfit.

'We feel Liverpool are the strongest team, what better team to have as an opponent?' he said.

'I think Liverpool will make it difficult for us and I hope it will be difficult for them as well.

'The history is in favour of Liverpool but our team has been in good form so I hope we will be in the right condition to win this match.

'We are a very strong unit - the unity of the club is strong.

'We feel the Premier League is the best one at the moment - all of the teams are very strong and we respect them all.'

Managing director Keith Edelman admitted Arsenal would have preferred an easier draw after being paired with AC Milan.

The north London side paid the price for finishing second in their group and face one of the toughest challenges in the competition when they take on the defending champions.

Edelman said: 'It's going to be a great match, very exciting.

'We've only played them once in a competitive match in 1994, we drew at Highbury and lost at Milan so we can hopefully turn that round.

'We would have preferred an easier one at this stage but everyone will be looking forward to this tremendously.

'Arsene (Wenger) has built a strong squad so we are confident.

'I don't think games come much bigger than this at this stage of the competition, highly charged and very competitive.'

The Gunners are top of the Premier League and this week progressed to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup.

'We want to be in all competitions and we have a big enough squad to be able to compete.'

AC Milan operations director Umberto Gandini paid tribute to the Gunners but admitted the Italian side are confident they can retain the trophy they won by beating Liverpool.

Gandini said: 'Quite frankly I've seen better draws at this stage of the competition.

'Arsenal are an excellent team, lots of young talent, well coached by Arsene Wenger. They are doing phenomenally well in the Premier League and doing well in the Champions League and we know it's going to be very tough.

'I know Arsene will think the same about us.'

Gandini admitted the Italians will be looking to defend the trophy especially with Paolo Maldini retiring at the end of the season.

'It's a long time since a team won two in a row so maybe we have the pedigree to do that. But we have to overcome a very difficult challenge that is Arsenal.

'We hope for him (Maldini) - that would push the team to go through all the difficulties.'

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has described his side's clash with Spanish giants Barcelona as a 'formidable task'.

The Scottish champions have met Frank Rijkaard's side twice in the last four years in both the Champions League and UEFA Cup - and Lawwell is well aware of the challenge facing the Bhoys.

He said: 'It's a fantastic tie and a formidable task. We are looking forward to welcoming them back to Celtic Park, it'll be another fantastic night.

'There is a friendship from those times (the previous meetings), a great connection and we are looking forward to seeing them again.

'This is where Celtic should be - welcoming the best and hopefully competing against the best.

'Any team we could have got we would still have been the underdogs, but we relish being the underdogs. It will be a fantastic night for the club and our supporters. Our record against Barcelona has been good and let's hope we can continue that.

'We wouldn't be here if we didn't think we could got through. Gordon (Strachan) has done a fantastic job to get us into the last 16 for a second year running.'

More to follow...