PARIS, March 5 (BSS/AFP) - AC Milan and defending champions Barcelona are both well placed to progress to the quarter- finals of the Champions League as the first four of this season's last- 16 ties conclude this week.
Milan take a 4-0 lead to Arsenal on Tuesday evening, while
Barcelona -- who got the better of the Italian champions in the
group phase -- have a 3-1 advantage to defend when Bayer
Leverkusen visit Camp Nou on Wednesday.
A slickly taken first-half hat-trick from the returning
Zlatan Ibrahimovic set Milan on the way to a 4-0 win at Palermo
on Saturday that enabled them to open up a three-point lead over
Juventus at the Serie A summit.
Massimiliano Allegri's side were similarly ruthless in the
first leg of their tie against Arsenal three weeks ago, when a
Robinho brace helped the seven-time European champions condemn
the Londoners to their heaviest defeat in continental
Arsene Wenger labelled his side's performance "shocking" and
the Gunners must now do what only three teams have managed to do
in the history of UEFA tournaments and overhaul a four-goal
deficit from the first leg of a knockout tie.
Milan, however, have unwanted experience of throwing away
handsome leads in the Champions League.
In 2003-04, they went out to Deportivo La Coruna in the
quarter- finals despite leading 4-1 from the first leg and the
following season witnessed their famous loss on penalties to
Liverpool in the final after they went in 3-0 up at half-time.
Arsenal can also take heart from a run of four straight wins
in the Premier League, the latest of which being a smash-and-grab
2-1 success at Liverpool on Saturday that took them to within
four points of third-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Six of Arsenal's last 19 home wins in Europe have been by
four goals or more, and Wenger knows that in Robin van Persie --
scorer of both goals at Anfield -- he possesses one of Europe's
most in-form strikers.
"We will give absolutely everything to win," he told the
"We know the statistics are against us, but you can realise
the impossible when you don't know it is impossible. Let's ignore
that and just go for it."
Leverkusen face a similarly daunting task against a Barcelona
side who appear to have rediscovered themselves in recent weeks,
having registered three consecutive wins culminating in
Saturday's 3-1 success over Sporting Gijon in La Liga.
Furthermore, Pep Guardiola's side are unbeaten in 13 European
home games and Leverkusen have not won away from home in Europe's
premier club competition for more than a decade.
Barca will welcome back tournament top scorer Lionel Messi
after he missed the victory over Gijon through suspension, but
forward Alexis Sanchez (thigh) and left-back Eric Abidal (groin)
are both likely to miss the game due to injury.
Perhaps the most finely poised match of the week sees Zenit
Saint- Petersburg travel to Benfica on Tuesday protecting a 3-2
lead from the first leg.
Roman Shirokov's 88th-minute winner gave Zenit victory at
Stadion Petrovski on Valentine's Day but Benfica have two away
goals under their belts, as well as a record of 15 wins, three
draws and one defeat in their last 19 European home games.
Lyon will also take a narrow lead into Wednesday's game at
Cypriot side APOEL FC, whose hopes of reaching the last eight
remain alive despite a 1-0 loss at Stade Gerland in the first
OL are bidding to reach the quarter-finals for the first time
since their run to the last four in 2009-10 but domestically they
are without a win in five Ligue 1 matches, which has seen them
fall seven points below the Champions League places.
"The match in Nicosia on Wednesday is important for the
players, but also for the club," said Lyon coach Remi Garde after
Saturday's 2- 0 loss at Nancy.