Powerhouses struggle ahead of second legs

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/f/football1.jpg' class='caption'> Juventus and AC Milan have forgotten how to score and Barcelona has lost the winning habit.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:39 IST
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Juventus and AC Milan have forgotten how to score and Barcelona has lost the winning habit. Maybe the Champions League - Europe's most prestigious club title - is going to one of the teams who have never won it, or at least not for a very long time. The title has developed a custom of going to unexpected teams. FC Porto was a surprise winner two seasons ago under Jose Mourinho, and Liverpool posted a memorable cup final triumph over Milan last year after labouring to a distant fifth in the English Premier League. Now it could be Arsenal, Lyon or Benfica although Villarreal has to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit to an Inter Milan side, which has not won the title since 1965. Benfica's last triumph was in 1962 while Arsenal, Lyon and Villarreal have never even reached the semifinals. Juventus, Barcelona and Milan, by contrast, are three clubs who should be dominating the competition. All three could easily go out this week. Coming off a 2-0 first-leg loss to Arsenal, Italian league leader Juventus was held 0-0 by last place Treviso on Saturday. Twin strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet are out of form and coach Fabio Capello is hoping Alessandro Del Piero will return from injury to boost his ailing attack. Arsenal followed its Champions League victory with a 5-0 thumping of Aston Villa on Saturday with Thierry Henry scoring twice to give him 27 goals in all competitions this season. But Arsenal may be forced to face Juventus in Turin without 18-year-old Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who was the standout player at Highbury. Fabregas injured his foot against Villa, and Wenger is worried the teenager won't make it for the second leg. Milan posted a 0-0 draw with runaway French league leader Lyon in the first leg but tumbled 1-0 at struggling Lecce in Serie A action on Saturday. The loss came after a 12-game unbeaten streak but coach Carlo Ancelotti rested several regular starters, Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko, Jaap Stam and Alessandro Nesta. League title race The French champion welcomes Brazilian midfielder Juninho back from suspension and the Italians will have to beware his shooting prowess, especially from free kicks. Barcelona was held 0-0 by Benfica in Lisbon and then 1-1 at home by 10-man Real Madrid in Spanish League action on Saturday. Although it remains 11 points clear in the league title race, Frank Rijkaard's team has scored just once in three games after dominating opponents in Spain and Europe all season. Like Milan, Inter rested several regulars - Walter Samuel, Luis Figo, Adriano, Juan Sebastian Veron and Dejan Stankovic - for Saturday's Serie A game against Messina but the backup players triumphed 3-0. Villarreal gave Argentina playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme a rest but a 1-0 victory over Real Zaragoza lifted the club to seventh in the Spanish league.After the second legs are over, the semifinal pairings also will be known. Because of the first-leg results, the odds are on an Arsenal-Inter Milan match up in the semifinals and that will bring back memories of two group phase meetings two seasons ago. Inter scored a 3-0 victory at Highbury but the Gunners went to San Siro to win 5-1. In the other half of the draw, the winner of AC Milan and Lyon faces either Barcelona or Benfica. (AP)

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