The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League had to be “completely redone” after an embarrassing technical error angered clubs, European football’s governing body UEFA said on Monday. “Following a technical problem with the software of an external service provider instructing the officials on which teams are eligible to play against each other, a material error occurred in the draw for the UEFA Champions League round of 16, “announced a disciplined UEFA.
“As a result, the draw has been declared void and will be completely redone,” at 1400 GMT.
With the draw streamed directly from UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, the problem became clear when Manchester United’s name was drawn to confront Villarreal, despite the fact that the two clubs could not play against each other as they was the same group.
Manchester City were drawn to play against the Spanish team, but the ball that contained United’s name did not then appear to have been replaced correctly and therefore they were not included as possible opponents for Atletico Madrid in the next draw. Atletico, who have teamed up with six-time former Bayern Munich winners, said: “We are asking for an explanation from UEFA and we will see what they say.”
United have meanwhile finally been lured to play against Paris Saint-Germain, which means the water tooth prospect that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be up against each other again.
With the entire draw compromised, however, a red-faced UEFA left little choice but to start all over again.
The mess comes at a bad time for the European game’s governing body, at the end of a year in which relations with some of the continent’s biggest clubs were soured by the failed attempt at a breakaway 12-team Superliga.
– ‘Incredible’ –
Among the Super League rebels was Real Madrid, who were drawn in the first draw against Benfica on Monday before the problems occurred.
“It’s incredible,” tweeted Michael Owen, the former Real Madrid and England striker who now works as an expert. A new draw done from scratch will leave some clubs with a bitter taste.
For example, Chelsea holders appeared to be taking advantage of the original, flawed process when they paired with French champions Lille, arguably their weakest potential opponent, after qualifying for the last 16 in second place in their group.
City boss Pep Guardiola spoke at a press conference on Tuesday to preview his team’s game against Leeds, saying: “I think it’s fair. It was a mistake, but sometimes these things can happen.
“If there was an error, repeat so that it is not suspicious.”
Clubs that were in the same group cannot play against each other in the last 16, while teams from the same country are kept apart until the quarterfinals.
The last 16 first matches will be played in the second half of February with second matches in early March.
This season’s Champions League final will be played on May 28 in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
UEFA will soon introduce a new format for the Champions League group stage from 2024, which will increase the number of clubs involved from 32 to 36, with each team guaranteed 10 group matches compared to the current six.
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