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A season of hope for Serie A's teams has fallen apart in three days, with the Rossoneri drawing Barcelona in the Champions League quarters after defeats for Inter and Napoli

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

It had all looked so rosy until Tuesday. Inter trailed 1-0 from their first leg against Olympique Marseille, but it appeared to be a retrievable position. It wasn’t. Napoli led 3-1 against Chelsea and opened like a house on fire, suggesting Neapolitan dreams could come true. They couldn’t. Udinese went out of the Europa League too, but still there was AC Milan. All they needed was to get a favourable quarter-final draw to allow for hope that they could build some momentum towards another Champions League final. It didn’t arrive.

It is the Rossoneri who drew the short straw. The second Chelsea’s name was pulled out by Paul Breitner to confirm their tie with Benfica, and leave only two balls in the pot, Italian football fans’ worst fears were realised. Because those two balls contained the names of Milan and Barcelona.

CALCIO'S RISE AND FALL
 FEBRUARY 15
Milan 4-0 Arsenal
 FEBRUARY 21
Napoli 3-1 Chelsea
 FEBRUARY 22
= Marseille 1-0 Inter
 MARCH 6
Arsenal 3-0 Milan
 MARCH 13
Inter 2-1 Marseille (Inter out)
 MARCH 14
Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (Napoli out)
 MARCH 15
Udinese 2-1 AZ (Udinese out)
 MARCH 16
QF draw: Milan v Barcelona
Barca may be well adrift in the title race in Spain, but on the continent they remain the team to beat. And few truly fancy their chances of doing so. Milan, of course, have already had two cracks at it this season. A goal inside 25 seconds by Alexandre Pato couldn’t help them to do the job at Camp Nou in September, as it took an injury-time header from Thiago Silva to grab a point. Then at San Siro in November they spent much of the 90 minutes chasing the ball on the way to a 3-2 defeat.

While Milan mouthpieces will doubtless repeat the party line of the Champions League being “in the DNA” of the club over the next fortnight, they are clear second favourites to win the tie. As a result, Italian football is again set to be questioned. A week that started with the very real possibility of a Serie A-dominated quarter-final draw ends instead with the fear that by April 4 it will all be over.

For Zlatan Ibrahimovic it is another encounter with Pep Guardiola. For Mark van Bommel a further clash with Andres Iniesta. For Thiago Silva a chance to redeem himself after his Arsenal lapse against the team that reportedly coverts his signature. For Barca, meanwhile, it is just another game in their quest to brush the rest of Europe aside on their way to back-to-back Champions League crowns.

Massimiliano Allegri will be gearing his side up for this one immediately. Forget talk of taking one game at a time, and turning attentions to Barca only after Roma have been negotiated. This tie is where Milan’s corn will be earned, and it is on these games that their season will be judged, title or no title.

And the same goes for Calcio. Milan, as the sole remaining representatives, are carrying more than the weight of expectation from their legions of fans to Catalunya. They are also carrying the tricolore. After the week from hell, their ailing country is depending on them.

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