"I would have liked to have played against United later in the competition but they won't be pleased either." Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueño summed up the feeling in both camps after José Mourinho's side was drawn against Sir Alex Ferguson's. An early Christmas present for the neutral, but season-defining stuff for the under-fire Real coach. With the league towel all but thrown in, the hunt for the fabled décimais all the Bernabéu faithful have to cling to going into the winter break.
"It will be a fantastic tie for the fans and the players. It's an honor to play against such a prestigious team. We hope to go into the match in good condition and with all the players fit again. Preferences are irrelevant. You have to prepare well. It's a stimulus for the players, the fans and the club. We have to make the most of the expectation," added Butragueño.
It is, of course, also a chance for some old friends to be reunited. Whatever the response Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford will provoke, it will be certainly be less hostile than that which greeted his every touch in Manchester City's Etihad Stadium in the group stage.
A more convivial reunion will take place in Sir Alex's office, where Mourinho was always a welcome guest during his time in the Premier League with Chelsea. "It's the tie of the round," noted the Scot. "It's a great opportunity for the fans to see Cristiano once again and for me to meet with José again. I'll have to ask him for a drop of good wine."
It's a great opportunity for the fans to see Cristiano once again"
Manchester United has only beaten Real over two legs in Europe on one occasion, when it went on to win the European Cup in 1968. The last meeting between the two sides was in 2002-03, with Real beating United 6-5 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Barcelona was drawn against AC Milan in another classic European encounter, although the playing field has not been level for quite some time. Barcelona beat the Italians in the quarterfinals last season over two legs, despite a goalless draw at the San Siro. The previous season they met in the Group stage, with a tie at Camp Nou and an away win for Barça in Milan.
In the 2005-06 semifinals a lone Ludovic Giuly strike was enough to settle the tie. Barcelona went on to beat Arsenal in the final.
"Such a great name is intimidating but we will approach the tie with the highest of hopes. They are not going well in their league right now but they have some excellent players. They are not currently at their best but soccer changes from one day to the next," Barcelona vice president Josep Maria Bartomeu told Spanish television.
Málaga, which beat Milan in the group stage as it advanced unbeaten to the knockout phase, drew Portuguese champion and European stalwart Porto, in what should be a fascinating contest. They are a fantastic team. They are playing very well and it's going to be very hard to get past them but we will go after them," said Málaga director Francisco Martín Aguilar.
Valencia, which qualified from Group F level on points with Bayern Munich, will play nouveau-riche Paris Saint-Germain, which already features a panoply of stars including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi, and may add David Beckham to its ranks before the two sides meet in February.