Clash of heavyweights Atletico & Juventus seems like a final
Massimiliano Allegri told Juventus not to be afraid of Atletico Madrid but, for one of these teams, their worst fears in this season's Champions League are about to become a reality.
Crashing out in the last 16 would be unthinkable for two clubs who were among the favourites when the draw for the knock-out stages was made in December.
"Those who have ambition are not afraid," Allegri said, after his side were drawn to play Atletico, with the first leg tomorrow morning (Singapore time) at the Wanda Metropolitano.
"It's like a final, we cannot put a foot wrong," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.
Juventus and Atletico Madrid have reached 12 European Cup finals between them, with last season's game in Kiev the first in five years in which neither had featured.
Atletico went on to win the Europa League instead, proving themselves too strong for Europe's second-tier competition, while Juve were dumped out by eventual winners Real Madrid, undone by a controversial Cristiano Ronaldo penalty in the 98th minute.
It was Ronaldo's 10th goal in seven games against Juventus, having scored twice in the first leg and twice in the final in 2017 too. Juve beat Real in the semi-finals two years earlier but, even then, Ronaldo managed a goal in each leg.
There was understandable relief, as well as joy, when the Portuguese switched sides last summer and, now, there is belief. Ronaldo has not finished in single figures for goals in the Champions League since 2011.
But with anticipation comes pressure. Juventus are on course to win an eighth consecutive Scudetto, but this is the one trophy they crave.
Miss out again and it will be 23 years since they last lifted Europe's premier prize, this time with their most prolific player ever among their ranks.
"We have to be wary of Atletico," Allegri said.
"And we have to find the right moment to score. It's crucial that we get a goal there, otherwise qualification will be very difficult."
Atleti have the chance to play a final at home this year, at the Metropolitano, and not only snatch the cup away from rivals Real but do it in the city they both call their own.
"To play a final in our own stadium, in our own city, in front of our own fans is inspiring," Simeone said.
"But it is pointless only to imagine it. The reality will be what we deserve."
"It's an extra motivation for us and for the fans. The road to get there will be tough, but we'll give it our all," Antoine Griezmann added. - AFP