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2022 Champions League draw: why was the last-16 draw repeated?

UEFA was left red-faced in December after mistakes in the Champions League last-16 draw forced the governing body to repeat the process.

2022 Champions League draw: why was the last-16 draw repeated?
OZAN KOSEAFP via Getty Images

When the pairings for the Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals are decided in Nyon on Friday, UEFA will be under pressure to avoid the embarrassing gaffes that forced the European governing body to repeat the draw for the last 16.

What went wrong in the Champions League last-16 draw?

December’s draw, overseen by UEFA Secretary General Giorgio Marchetti and UEFA Head of Club Competitions Michael Heselschwerdt, went wrong in three ways.

The problems chiefly centred around the draw masters’ inability to correctly apply the draw criteria, which, among (not very many) other things, stated that teams who faced each other in the group stage could not be drawn together in the opening knockout round.

The first tie was drawn without incident, Benfica given a clash with Real Madrid, but the second pairing saw Villarreal matched up with Manchester United, despite the fact the Red Devils had topped Group F ahead of the Submarino Amarillo.

Though the error was immediately spotted, with Villarreal instead drawn against Manchester City, UEFA’s problems had only just begun.

Having briefly been taken out of the pot moments earlier, United were not placed back into it when, in the third tie drawn, Atlético Madrid’s last-16 opponents were determined. United had not played Los Rojiblancos in the previous round, so were eligible to face them.

In addition, footage of the draw later showed that Heselschwerdt had put Liverpool in the pot containing Atlético’s possible opponents. The two teams had qualified from the same group, so could not be drawn together.

Atlético were paired with 2020 tournament winners Bayern Munich, and on went the draw, leaving us with the following last-16 matchups:

Benfica vs Real Madrid

Villarreal vs Manchester City

Atlético Madrid vs Bayern Munich

RB Salzburg vs Liverpool

Inter Milan vs Ajax

Sporting CP vs Juventus

Chelsea vs Lille

Paris Saint-Germain vs Manchester United

Atleti complain, UEFA blame draw software

Atlético, who were quite understandably less than enthused by the prospect of a tie with Bayern, quickly complained to UEFA that the integrity of the draw had been compromised, tweeting at 1.39pm CET: “We are in talks with UEFA to ask for explanations and a solution after the mistakes made in the Champions League round of 16 draw.”

Four minutes later, UEFA confirmed the draw would have to be redone, and, not exactly convincingly, blamed the confusion on a third-party IT system. “Following a technical problem with the software of an external service provider that instructs the officials as to which teams are eligible to play each other, a material error occurred in the draw for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16,” the organisation tweeted.

Second time around, the draw went off without a hitch, but four clubs could legitimately feel aggrieved at having been dealt a significantly less favourable hand: Sporting CP swapped Juventus for Manchester City; Inter Milan got Liverpool, having previously had Ajax; and Real Madrid and PSG, who initially drew Benfica and Manchester United, respectively, were pitted together in a tie neither would have wanted.

The result of the last-16 redraw looked like this:

RB Salzburg vs Bayern Munich

Sporting CP vs Manchester City

Benfica vs Ajax

Chelsea vs Lille

Atlético Madrid vs Manchester United

Villarreal vs Juventus

Inter Milan vs Liverpool

PSG vs Real Madrid

Madrid director lambasts "shameful" balls-up

Madrid, whose initial tie with Benfica had come out of the hat before the first draw began to go south, were particularly angered by the debacle. Not without justification, Los Blancos complained to UEFA that this pairing had not been affected by the later foul-up, and that the draw should not have been repeated in its entirety, but rather restarted from the point at which it became adulterated.

Speaking after the redraw, indeed, Madrid’s director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueño, a man who has become a past master in say-nothing-out-of-turn diplomacy during his time in the role, shot uncharacteristically from the hip. He described what had happened as “shameful” and “very difficult to understand”.

The timing of the fiasco was certainly unfortunate, coming amid hugely strained relations between UEFA and Madrid, as Bernabéu president Florentino Pérez - together with Juventus counterpart Andrea Agnelli - refuses to abandon plans to form a breakaway European Super League. “UEFA provides Pérez with ammunition”, was former AS editor-in-chief Alfredo Relaño’s summary of the episode.

While UEFA blamed software, the media and the public pointed the finger at Heselschwerdt, whose job it had been to place the balls in the right pots. In his editorial the next day, Relaño castigated the official’s “crass” errors, concluding: “It certainly looks bad for an organisation in whose hands we have entrusted European football, that fabulous mass-market entertainment that is at the same time an industry with many zeros after it.”

And on social media, Heselschwerdt quickly became the butt of the jokes:

Champions League quarter-final draw: live with AS USA

You can follow Friday’s quarter-final and semi-final draw, which gets underway at 12pm CET/7am ET, with AS USA’s live-text coverage. Paul Reidy will be talking you through each of the pairings as they come out of the hat at UEFA headquarters.