It's easy to find fault with the Champions League, with its bloated structure, the inequalities it perpetuates and the fact that the final round of group games were pretty much meaningless with most of the qualifiers already decided. But the draw for the last 16 is a reminder of why the competition remains so popular, why it has such an allure.
This is a great draw, with fascinating ties throughout.
Probably the standout game is the meeting of Manchester United and Real Madrid, a battle of two greats who haven't really convinced this season. For Jose Mourinho, it's a return to the stadium where, in one knee slide down the touchline as Porto eliminated United with a late goal, he burst onto Europe's consciousness in 2004, and perhaps a chance to save his job - assuming he still wants to save it. Certainly it would be a way to salvage his reputation from the blows it is taking this season. For Cristiano Ronaldo, it's a return to the club with whom he won the Champions League in 2008.
At the moment, United are in the better form - six points clear at the top of the table as opposed to being 13 adrift as Madrid are - but they have been poor defensively. Perhaps the return of Nemanja Vidic will restore stability, but then perhaps Real Madrid will have rediscovered their rhythm by March. That said, Real Madrid face Barcelona three days before the second leg; managing two such big games in such a short period of time will be tough.
Barcelona, having won the competition twice in the past four years and lost twice in epic semi-finals, remain the team to beat, although it remains to be seen exactly what role Tito Vilanova is able to take as he recovers after his cancer returned. Their game against AC Milan evokes memories of the 1994 final, when Milan won 4-0, but a more relevant precedent is the teams' four meetings last season. Barcelona came out on top by an aggregate of 8-5 but were never entirely dominant and it may be that Max Allegri has worked out a way to combat them. Certainly he has worked out a way to get his own team playing; after an awful start they have won six of their last seven games, the odd one out being against Zenit in the Champions League in a dead rubber.
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From a purely aesthetic point of view, the best tie of the round is arguably the game between Borussia Dortmund and Shakhtar Donetsk. Both play a 4-2-3-1, both play a high line, both play to a high tempo and both press hard. The only doubt is whether Shakhtar will physically be ready for the game. It's a perennial issue for eastern European sides that, with a lengthy winter break, they tend to be worn out by the end of the group stage in November. In theory, they should be fresh come the spring - and that could be an advantage of they can make it through to the last eight - but the danger is that, with the Ukrainian season not starting until March 3, they might be undercooked.
Bayern Munich, cruising in Germany where they are nine points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, face Arsenal. Were the game being played tomorrow, Bayern would be overwhelming favourites but Arsenal's form follows familiar cycles. They always have bad Novembers, and they always improve in the spring. If they really, as has been promised, have money to spend in January, Arsenal could be a very different team come the end of February. The other glimmer of hope for them is that on the odd occasion when Bayern have fallen behind and been under pressure this season - against BATE most notably - they do seem inclined to panic.
Celtic's reward for their astonishing victory over Barcelona and their general group-stage diligence is another glamorous fixture, against Juventus. Juve are potential European champions, five points clear in Serie A and seeming to have improved from last season. It had seemed as though an opponent could disrupt their rhythm simply by sitting a man on Andrea Pirlo, but Leonardo Bonucci has become increasingly confident at bringing the ball out from the back. The key tactically would appear to be whether Celtic's wide midfielders, presumably Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown, can force the Juve wing-backs, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwoh Asamoah, onto the back foot. If they can, Celtic have a chance; if not they risk being overmanned in midfield.
The other team with realistic title aspirations are Paris St-Germain, playing at this stage for the first time in a decade. Their squad should be capable of challenging but they are yet to click and remain very dependent on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Porto impressed in the group stage, the Colombian duo of Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez linking well, and their clash with Malaga, performing heroically despite the instability that surrounds the club, has the feel of a potentially classic B-movie. Schalke, with the width, face Galatasaray, with their careful build-up trough the centre in what looks like being a battle of two centre-forwards, assuming both stay at their clubs: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of Schalke and Burak Yilmaz of Galatasaray.
But the United v Real game tops the bill. The second leg of their quarter-final in 2000, when Real won 3-2 at Old Trafford, was one of the most significant games in recent history, forcing Sir Alex Ferguson to rethink his approach. They've met four times before in this competition; there times the winner has gone on to be European champion.