European elite, 2 rookies in Champions League last-16 draw

ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 14, 2015 10:12 AM
European elite, 2 rookies in Champions League last-16 draw
Barcelona's Lionel Messi kicks the ball during the Champions League Group E soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and FC Barcelona in Leverkusen, western Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Sebastian Konopka)

GRAHAM DUNBAR
AP Sports Writer

  
GENEVA (AP) — A stronger elite and a bigger spread of countries stand out in Monday's draw for the Champions League first knockout round.

European football's Big Three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich — the past three winners — combine for 20 of the 26 continental titles shared by the teams left.

Still, two debutants at this round of 16 stage — Wolfsburg and Gent, the true underdog — give the draw a fresher look with a record 10 nations represented. Gent has ended Belgium's 15-year absence and PSV Eindhoven returns after a nine-year gap for the Netherlands.

Barcelona, aiming to be the first title holder to retain the trophy in the 24-year Champions League era, is in the pot of eight seeded group winners, including Madrid and Bayern.

Even missing Lionel Messi for three of its six group matches, Barcelona advanced easily and unbeaten as superstar forward partners Neymar and Luis Suarez stepped up.

Barcelona is the one to avoid for the unseeded group runners-up, though the five-time champion will not want a rematch of last season's final against Juventus.

Madrid and Bayern each scored 19 goals so far, and Cristiano Ronaldo's group-stage record of 11 built an eight-goal gap on Messi in their duel for the all-time competition record.

Paris Saint-Germain matched a Champions League best by conceding only one goal in its group, won by Madrid, and is a dangerous option for the other seeded teams.

Wolfsburg and Zenit St. Petersburg both impressed as group winners though both teams, if only judged by reputation, rate as easier options in a seeded pot that features Manchester City for the first time.

Among unseeded teams, Arsenal is in the draw for the 16th straight year and Dynamo Kiev returns after a 16-year gap. Coach Serhiy Rebrov was a player on the last Dynamo team to advance from the groups.

Dynamo cannot be paired with Zenit due to a UEFA rule separating Ukrainian and Russian teams during ongoing political tension between the nations.

At this stage, teams cannot be drawn against opponents from their home country or a group opponent. The draw is open for the quarterfinals onward.

Seeded teams will be drawn to play away in the first legs, scheduled on Feb. 16-17 and Feb. 23-24. Return matches are on March 8-9 and 15-16.

Each team has already earned up to 20 million euros ($22 million) prize money from UEFA and will get an extra 5.5 million euros ($6 million) for playing in the round of 16.

The final is played on May 28 at San Siro stadium in Milan.

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Seeded teams: Real Madrid, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Zenit St. Petersburg.

Unseeded teams: Paris Saint-Germain, PSV Eindhoven, Benfica, Juventus, Roma, Arsenal, Dynamo Kiev, Gent.

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