Madrid rivals brace for collision
NYON, Switzerland — Holder Real Madrid will face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semifinals while French upstart Monaco will take on Juventus, following the draw on Friday.
The all-Madrid showdown is a rerun of the 2014 and 2016 finals in Europe’s top club competition, with a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Real victorious on both occasions in tight, cagey affairs.
Real will host Atletico at Santiago Bernabeu on May 2 and Monaco is home to Italian champion Juventus on May 3, with the second legs the following week.
Going into the draw at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, all four teams publicly espoused the belief there is nothing to choose between them.
But 39-year-old Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon broke ranks, saying he would prefer to avoid a wily Atletico side because it is out of the La Liga title race and therefore can rest players for Europe.
“The only distinction from the three teams is that Atletico Madrid has a more marked and defined position in the (league) standings,” said Buffon, who is yet to win the Champions League, calling Diego Simeone’s squad “the trickiest” of the sides left.
“The other two (Real and Monaco) are fighting for the championship (as is Juventus), so that could definitely be a factor.”
Real Madrid, for whom Ronaldo sniped a hat-trick in eliminating Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, is favored by British bookmakers.
But Juventus was hugely impressive in beating Barcelona 3-0 in the first leg and then holding the Spanish champi- on to a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Wednesday in a defensive masterpiece.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique predicts Juventus will beat Monaco and go on to lift the trophy it last won in 1996.
“Over the two legs they were better than us so they deserve to go through to the semifinals. I think they can go all the way and win the Champions League this season,” the Spanish international said after Buffon blanked Lionel Messi and Barcelona over 180 minutes of soccer.
French league leader Monaco is the outsider but has already claimed victims in Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals and Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur before that.
The final is in Cardiff, Wales, on June 3.
Marcus Rashford scores Manchester United’s winning goal against Anderlecht in their UEFA Europa League quarterfinal second-leg match at Old Trafford, Manchester, on Thursday. Jose Mourinho’s side remains on course to claim the only major trophy missing from the club’s collection.