Alonso keen to avoid Barca in knockout stages

December 7, 2006

Liverpool's Spanish star Xabi Alonso has admitted he would prefer to avoid Champions League holders Barcelona in the last 16 but believes his side are suited to the role of underdogs.

After the Reds` final Group C match in Istanbul on Tuesday, a 3-2 defeat by Galatasaray, the Merseysiders must now await the draw in Nyon, Switzerland, due to take place a week on Friday, before discovering their first knock-out opponents.

And the prospect is for Liverpool to find themselves confronted by Spanish or Italian opposition as they bid to reach the quarter-finals.

Regardless of the defeat in Turkey, Liverpool have topped their group and now must await the second-placed qualifiers from the other group.

They cannot play PSV Eindhoven from their own group, but Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Roma are potential opponents from Tuesday's final group games, while Celtic, Porto and Lille were added to the list of possibilities after last night`s matches.

And Alonso revealed he is not too keen on Spanish opposition, admitting: 'Now, I would prefer to avoid Barcelona.

'Maybe it would be great to meet them in the semi-final or the final. But whoever we are drawn against will be tough, the teams that have qualified are very difficult.

'But we are confident in ourselves, we know we can beat the best sides.'

He added: 'We know whoever we get in the next round will be really tough but it will also be exciting.

'You can see the teams who will be involved and how strong those who finished in second are.

'Last season we felt happier being drawn against Benfica, a supposedly weaker side, but we lost both matches at this stage.

'We'll have to be ready. Real or Barcelona could also be the next game, but we've played a few games in Spain in the recent years and always done well, so if we meet either of those clubs we'll know it will be a massive game for the club, but we'll see.

'When we won the trophy in 2005, we were never favourites in any game we played, and depending on the draw that may be the case again, which could suit us.

'It was definitely good the year we won it when everyone thought we would lose to Juventus and then Chelsea and Milan. I hope that would be a good omen for us.'

The thought of facing Real Madrid brought a guarded reaction from boss Rafael Benitez.

He said: 'Yes, my old club are in the hat and we could face them, but I would prefer to wait and see.

'We might be drawn against someone we feel we can handle, but they could be much stronger by the time the knock-out phase starts in February because of the transfer window.'