Anyone who believed there was anything other than incompetence at work in the voided UEFA Champions League draw had to wait until the very end of the do-over to be assured the first one simply had been botched.
Because the very last match revealed for the upcoming Champions League round of 16 was Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain.
Does anyone really think UEFA would want to stick it to the team that has won this competition more times than any other?
It’ll be great television to see Real Madrid in another meeting with seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, their fierce rival from his 17 seasons at FC Barcelona.
But Real Madrid got really, royally hosed in this process, which was necessitated by an error involving Manchester United in the initial draw that UEFA blamed on a software glitch.
The draws were conducted by choosing teams from the runners-up pool first, then checking a computer program that indicated which of the group champions they were eligible to play. Teams could not face opponents from their same country or the groups in which they competed. Errors were made with both Manchester United and Liverpool being placed in draw pots for which they were not eligible.
After UEFA announced the initial draw would be scrapped, according to soccer journalist Arancha Rodriguez, Real Madrid lobbied UEFA to resume the draw at the point when the first error was made and leave intact those matchups that already had been placed on the board.
One of those: Real Madrid vs. Benfica.
UEFA did not agree to this request because it could not be assured that the glitch didn’t affect the other parts of the draw.
So instead of Real Madrid getting to play Benfica, which currently stands third in Portugal’s Primeira Liga and earned eight points in Group E to finish a distant second behind Bayern Munich, Real will oppose PSG, which is running away with the Ligue 1 title in France and lost group A by a single point to England power Manchester City.
Benfica won only two of its past five Champions League games and finished a minus-2 in goal differential in its group. In two games against Bayern, Benfica fell by a composite score of 9-2.
Paris Saint-Germain split a pair of meetings with Man City in its group stage. PSG features world superstars Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and reigning goalkeeper of the year Gianluigi Donnarumma. Also in its squad is ex-Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, who previously vowed he’d never join a team that would compete with Madrid.
After winning the trophy in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Real Madrid has only gotten beyond the Round of 16 once in the past three tournaments, when Los Merengues lost last year to eventual champion Chelsea in the semifinals.
In 2020, it was another tough draw — against Man City — that knocked out the Spanish giants.
PSG also could feel somewhat aggrieved by the re-draw, although it did place itself in this circumstance by failing to win its group.
This is how the re-draw worked out for the eight group champions:
|Group Winner||Original draw opponent||Final draw opponent||Tougher / Easier?|
|Manchester City||Villarreal||Sporting Lisbon||Tougher|
|Liverpool||RB Salzburg||Inter Milan||Tougher|
|Real Madrid||Benfica||Paris Saint-Germain||Tougher|
|Bayern Munich||Atletico Madrid||RB Salzburg||Easier|
|Manchester United||Paris Saint-Germain||Atletico Madrid||Easier|