The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw was made on Monday afternoon at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland and it came with a pinch of controversy as the ceremony needed redoing following a human error in the initial attempt.
The Champions League group stage wrapped up last week with eight federations represented in the Round of 16 draw earlier today. As ceremony host Pedro Pinto pointed out for viewers, the group phase delivered scintillating football with 297 goals in 96 games – averaging 3,1 goals per game.
Ajax, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool were the first teams to guarantee qualification to the knockout stage of the most prestigious club tournament in the world, after the quartet all won their opening four group ties.
On match-day 5, seven more teams secured safe passages to the Round of 16 next year, and last week in match-day 6 the final five spots were filled.
2020/21 runners-up Manchester City won Group A with 12 points as Paris St-Germain finished runners-up, 1 point shy of Pep Guardiola's City Blues.
Liverpool cruised through Group B with a maximum 6 wins and 18 points. Atlético Madrid took 7 points from a possible 18, but it was enough to secure 2nd-place for Diego Simeone's men.
Ajax steamrolled the opposition in Group C as the Dutch champions took maximum points while scoring 20 goals in their six group ties.
Sporting Lisbon and Borussia Dortmund each ended on 9 points but the Portuguese outfit topped their German counterparts on head-to-head record, sending Dortmund down to the Europa League.
After losing their opening group game, Real Madrid went on to collect all 15 points on offer in their remaining five clashes in Group D. Los Blancos advanced as group winners as they conceded a joint-fewest 3 goals in six matches.
Inter Milan came runners-up with 10 points while CL newcomers Sheriff Tiraspol qualified for Europa.
Bayern Munich, too, let in just 3 goals in and the Bavarians scored a competition-high 22 goals at an average of 3,6 goals per game. Along with Ajax and Liverpool, Bayern breezed through their pool with total points.
Benfica pipped four-time UCL winners Barcelona for 2nd-place, with the two teams separated by just a solitary point in Group E.
Man United got off to a slow start in Group F, losing their opening fixture to BSC Young Boys, before the Red Devils bounced back and took 11 points from the last 15 to top their group.
Europa League holders Villarreal beat Italian side Atalanta on the final match-day to reach the Round of 16 with 10 points.
Group G saw Lille and RB Salzburg progress as group winners and runners-up, respectively. The French champions conceded 4 goals and finished on 11 points with Salzburg 1 point adrift.
Juventus and Chelsea battled for top spot in Group H and it was the La Bianconeri who reigned supreme with a group-topping 15 points for the Italians, after the reigning UCL champions stumbled at the last hurdle, drawing 3-3 with Zenit in Saint Petersburg – venue of the Champions League Final on 28 May 2022.
Seeded teams i.e. group winners:
Unseeded teams i.e. group runners-up:
Europe's elite club competition has been won a combined 41 times between the 16 qualified teams.
The official draw was declared void after a human error with UEFA later suggesting it was rather due to a 'technical problem' and 'software issues'.
Villarreal were the first half of the second pairing, drawn by UEFA Deputy General Secretary Giorgio Marchetti. UEFA's Head of Club Competitions, Michael Heselschwerdt, placed one ball too many in the pot to determine Villarreal's opposition and they were drawn against Man United.
The two teams were in the same group therefore cannot meet in the first knockout round, and Man City were drawn instead to play Villarreal.
Heselschwerdt then failed to replace Man Utd’s ball into the pot for the following pairing, as Atlético Madrid were matched against high-flying Bayern.
United were subsequently drawn with PSG for the third time in four seasons, and there was much hype over the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi sharing a pitch.
Liverpool were paired with Salzburg, and holders Chelsea with Lille.
Inter Milan and Ajax were drawn together, as were Benfica and Real Madrid.
Sporting CP drew Juventus.
Within a couple hours the draw was declared void and was redone 3 hours after the first take in Nyon. Viewers were undoubtedly watching Heselschwerdt like a hawk as he, Marchetti and 2022 Final Ambassador Andrey Arshavin reconvened for take two of the Round of 16 draw.
Only one tie remained the same as Chelsea drew Lille once more. The pick of the bunch sees Real Madrid clash with PSG.
Champions League Round of 16 draw:
RB Salzburg vs Bayern Munich
Sporting CP vs Manchester City
Benfica vs Ajax
Chelsea vs Lille
Atlético Madrid vs Manchester United
Villarreal vs Juventus
Inter Milan vs Liverpool
Real Madrid vs Paris St-Germain
The Round of 16 first leg ties will be contested on 15/16 February & 22/23 February, with the return leg pencilled for 8/9 March & 15/16 March.
Heading into the knockout phase, Ajax striker Sebastien Haller is the top scorer in the competition with a stellar 10 goals in 6 appearances – his first season playing Champions League football.
Bayern forward Robert Lewandowski is also high up the charts with 9 goals, while Mohamed Salah has netted 7 goals and Ronaldo sits on 6.
Last month Lewandowski was snubbed for the Ballon d’Or as Messi became a 7-time winner of the award presented by France Football.
Barcelona youngster Pedri claimed the Kopa award for the best player aged 21 or under. The 19-year-old also previously scooped the Golden Boy accolade which follows a similar criteria to the Kopa prize. Despite his tender age Pedri has proven instrumental at club and international level.
Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma walked away with the Yashin trophy after the 22-year-old shot-stopper guided his nation to continental glory in the summer.
The Champions League draw earlier today was followed by that of the Europa League, with UEFA's secondary club competition reformatted ahead of the current season.
In order to accommodate the newly-established Conference League, the UEL Round of 32 was scrapped and replaced by a knockout play-off round.
The play-offs see Europa group runners-up square off with Champions League 3rd-placed teams, with the eight winning teams advancing to the Round of 16 draw where they will be unseeded.
In their first European group campaign, West Ham finished top of Group H to qualify directly for the Round of 16 in March. Leicester City finished 3rd in Group C and have thus been demoted to the Conference League.
Barcelona exited the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2000/01, when current manager Xavi was in the third season of his senior playing career which lasted 21 years.
Standing between Barça and the Europa last-16 is Italian side Napoli as the two teams prepare to lock horns in a Diego Maradona derby.
Also dropping from CL to EL were six-time Europa winners Sevilla.
Seeded teams, i.e. UEL group winners:
Red Star Belgrade
West Ham Utd
UEL group runners-up:
SSC Napoli Olympiacos
UCL 3rd-place teams:
Europa League Round of 16 play-off draw:
Sevilla vs Dinamo Zagreb
Atalanta vs Olympiacos
RB Leipzig vs Real Sociedad
Barcelona vs Napoli
Zenit vs Real Betis
Borussia Dortmund vs Rangers
Sheriff Tiraspol vs Sporting Braga
Porto vs Lazio
The play-offs are scheduled for Thursday 17/24 February, with the Round of 16 ties to be played on Thursday 10/17 March. The draw for the Round of 16 will be made once the play-offs have concluded.
On the international scene, three more European nations will qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar via the play-offs. The end of last month was the draw for UEFA WCQ play-offs, with heavyweights Italy and Portugal grouped in the same qualification path.
Only one of the two most-recent European champions will be present at next year's showpiece in the desert with the Azzurri on track to meet the Seleção in the Path C play-off final.
The play-offs will be staged during the next international break in March 2022.
UEFA WCQ play-offs:
Wales vs Austria
Scotland vs Ukraine
Russia vs Poland
Sweden vs Czech Republic
Portugal vs Turkey
Italy vs North Macedonia