- Champions League
Barca and Madrid set to learn Euro fate
Four clubs with 18 European Cup triumphs between them - Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund - are awaiting a heavyweight draw for the semi-finals of this season's Champions League on Friday.
The clubs are set to discover their fate at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, with figures from both Barcelona and Real Madrid very careful about their public statements ahead of the draw, with all involved aware of the tension generated three seasons ago when the Primera Division rivals met in the semi-finals.
On that occasion a Lionel Messi-inspired Barca progressed, but Madrid boss Jose Mourinho claimed a UEFA-led refereeing conspiracy had denied his side and relations between the two clubs became toxic amid allegations of violence, diving and racism.
With Bundesliga duo Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich also potential semi-final opponents, Catalan midfielder Sergio Busquets told Barca TV he had no preferences ahead of the draw.
"Whoever we get will be difficult," Busquets said. "Playing the first game home or away is all the same to me."
Speaking after Tuesday's second leg at Galatasaray, Mourinho's public thoughts were similar: "The draw will not tell much because we will get one of the three top teams in Europe. They will be big games, to enjoy, play and go for with everything."
The Madrid boss may, however, be secretly hoping to draw their domestic rivals, given that his side had the upper hand in their most recent La Liga and Copa del Rey meetings. Los Blancos fans will also be aware that they lost out to Dortmund in the group stages of this year's competition, and to Bayern Munich on penalties in last season's semi-finals.
Barcelona have not faced either Bayern or Dortmund in recent seasons, and director of football Andoni Zubizarreta appeared to suggest after Wednesday's quarter-final triumph over Paris Saint-Germain that he fancied facing a Bundesliga side in the semis - which are to be played April 23 or 24 and April 30 or May 1.
"It feels like it is a duel between the Spanish and German leagues," Zubizarreta said. "I really have no preference. I do not care if we play first at home or away."
Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness stated his hope that last season's losing finalists draw their Bundesliga rivals Dortmund in the last four, saying: "A Champions League draw is no picnic. We want to reach the final, and Dortmund would be the opponent we'd have the best chances against.
"Do you really believe Dortmund is better than Real or Barcelona?" he asked reporters. "Real will not always be as weak as they were in our last encounter. [Barcelona] are the best of those three teams."
It took Dortmund chief executive Aki Watzke only a couple of hours to reply, defending the record of his club - who beat Bayern to the Bundesliga title in the past two seasons before relinquishing their crown last weekend - but stating he would prefer not to face the Bavarians.
"Those previous years have shown that we can win the one or the other game against Bayern," Watzke told Die Welt. "Uli Hoeness should not feel too safe.
"Those three clubs all are among the world's best, For me the thrill of the European Cup lies in those international games. Thus I would be more delighted about two duels between German and Spanish clubs than about a semi-final against Bayern."