The UEFA Champions League has been described by UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino as a competition that continues to set high standards of excellence on and off the field.
Speaking at the round of 16 draw ceremony in Nyon on Monday, Mr Infantino said that the competition constantly inspires Europe's leading clubs and the superstars who play for them to even greater levels of achievement.
Last week, Real Madrid's Portuguese ace Cristiano Ronaldo set a new UEFA Champions League overall goalscoring record, which now stands at 88, as well as a new group stage record of eleven strikes.
"Once again," the UEFA General Secretary reflected, "excitement and entertainment marked the group stage, in which 45 goals were scored in the last round of matches played last week, with no less than 13 clubs chasing the seven places still available in the round of 16. In one of the groups, qualification changed several times."
Mr Infantino said that the forthcoming knockout phase promised to provide its fair share of thrills and surprises, with the added value of suspense which the system of direct elimination over two legs always brings. "The round of 16 comprises seven clubs who have already won Europe's premier club trophy, and the 16 clubs in the draw are representing ten national associations across Europe," he explained.
"The race to reach the final at the famous San Siro in Milan on 28 May is certainly hotting up. The unbroken tradition of no team winning the title in consecutive years, and the quality of the teams still left in the competition, means that it is impossible to predict the two finalists as we look ahead to a host of unforgettable matches, stunning goals and brilliant individual displays in the rounds to come."
Turning to the UEFA Europa League, the UEFA General Secretary said that the group stage reflected the strength and quality of the competition. Sixteen national associations are represented in the round of 32.
"A total of 375 goals were scored," he said at the draw ceremony, "and the group phase remained tight and tense until the last matchday, when no less than 20 teams were still in the running to reach one of the nine highly demanded and still available spots for the knockout phase."
Mr Infantino conveyed congratulations to Napoli, who broke the UEFA Europa League group stage goalscoring record in hitting five goals past Legia Warszawa, taking their overall total to 22 – one goal better than Salzburg's 21 last season.
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