|By PAUL GOUGH
Once upon a time, an AC Milan-Barcelona showdown in the European Champions League would have been worthy of the final and one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes in world football.
After all the two teams have won the competition 11 times between them, with nine of those [five of Milan's seven triumphs and all four of Barcelona's] coming since 1989.
But such has been the rise of Barcelona in recent years and the decline of AC Milan, that Wednesday's first leg, Round of 16 tie looks a no contest in favour of the Spanish giants - even with the game being played in Italy.
Such is the dominance of Barcelona in betting that the Catalan outfit are attracting nearly 90 percent of money already wagered on the game at Betfair and are as short as $1.55 to win the first leg, with AC Milan unwanted in betting at $7.20.
Even the draw is paying the healthy odds of $4.50.
And it is hardly surprising given that, in overall tournament betting, Barcelona went into the Round of 16 as the $3 favourites at Betfair to lift the trophy for the fourth time in eight seasons, while Milan are a distant $110.
But while this looks one of the weakest AC Milan teams to grace Europe's top competition for many years - they scraped into second place in Group C in the group stages with just eight points ahead of Zenit St Petersburg and Anderlecht - Barcelona just go from strength to strength.
And much of Barcelona's dominance has to do with one man - the world's greatest player in Argentine genius Lionel Messi.
|Barcelona to win v AC Milan at $1.55 at Betfair
||Barcelona to win v AC Milan 3-0 at $13 at Betfair|
Messi was at it again on the weekend, scoring both goals in a 2-1 La Liga victory over Granada, meaning he has now scored in a record 14 games in a row.
That takes the 25-year-old's record to 301 goals for Barcelona in all competitions in just eight seasons.
Such is his dominance that he is as short as $3.50 with Betfair to score the opening goal of Wednesday's game and even shorter at $3.20 at sportsbet.com.au, where he is also odds-on at $1.40 to simply score at any time during the game - an unheard of price for a player in the world's greatest club competition.
Milan are also winless in their past seven Champions League matches against Barcelona, dating back to 2004, although they did hold Barca to a 0-0 draw in their meeting at the San Siro last season.
But with Messi in record-breaking form, a 2-0 win for Barcelona is the favoured option in early correct score betting at Betfair at odds of $9.20 while a 3-0 win for the visitors is also worth considering at odds of $13.
Meanwhile, Turkish Liga leaders Galatasaray are favourites at home and good value at odds of $2.26 in the other clash on Wednesday against an out-of-form Schalke at odds of $3.60 with Betfair, where the draw is priced at $3.55.
Schalke sit a distant ninth in the Bundesliga and are winless in their past four games.
But they performed well in the group stages of the Champions League when they topped Group B ahead of English giants Arsenal, while the Turkish club also performed well to finish second in Group H with ten points, behind only Manchester United.
* Note prices subject to change