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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.

It had all looked so rosy until Tuesday. Inter trailed 1-0 from its 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 the team needed was to get a favorable quarterfinal draw to allow for hope that it 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 that club's tie with Benfica, and leave only two balls in the pot, Italian football fans’ worst fears were realized. 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 the club remains the team to beat. And few truly fancy their chances of doing so. Milan, of course, has already had two cracks at it this season. A goal inside 25 seconds by Alexandre Pato couldn’t help the cub 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 Milan 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, the team is clearly second favorite 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 quarterfinal 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 the quest to brush the rest of Europe aside on its 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 has been negotiated. This tie is where Milan’s corn will be earned, and it is on these games that the season will be judged, title or no title.

And the same goes for Calcio. Milan, as the sole remaining representative, is carrying more than the weight of expectation from its legions of fans to Catalunya. The club is also carrying the tricolore. After the week from hell, Milan's ailing country is depending on it.

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