Training & Press Conference - FC Bayern Muenchen

European giants to square off in Champions League

European soccer fans have long circled Oct. 22 and Oct. 23—today and Wednesday—on their calendars. Ever since the UEFA Champions League draw in August, anticipation has been building for the glamorous matchups of the third round of the group stage pitting against each other two sets of former champions and worldwide brands. It’s finally here.

The highlight of eight games today comes when Lionel Messi returns to lead Barcelona into the San Siro to face Mario Balotelli, AC Milan and a rapturous, raucous red-and-black-clad crowd.

The encore comes Wednesday in the Spanish capital with Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon are primed to represent Juventus in a glittering contest against Real Madrid as Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco and Gareth Bale eagerly await in the Santiago Bernabeu.

Make sure you have all the gear you need when the eagerly awaited games finally come. Find everything the players and fans wear at soccer.com.

AC Milan v Barcelona, San Siro, 2:45 p.m. ET today

FC Barcelona v AC Milan - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Barcelona sits in first place in Group H on six points having won both of its games against Ajax and Celtic, while AC Milan is in second after only managing a draw in Amsterdam last time out.

Not only will today’s match go a long way to determining who triumphs in the group and who also advances in second, but it presents a revenge opportunity for the Rossoneri. In last year’s tournament, Barcelona fell 2-0 in the San Siro in the Round of 16, a seemingly insurmountable deficit in the two-legged tie. It was insurmountable for most teams, but not Barcelona. Displaying the bit of magic and unparalleled tiki-taka skill in the second leg, the Blaugrana rallied for a blitzing 4-0 home win inspired by two first half Messi strikes to defeat a stunned AC Milan and advance to the quarterfinals.

AC Milan manager Massimo Allegri won’t be thrilled at the news that the otherworldly Messi has recovered from the thigh injury that’s kept him out of action since Sept. 28 and is set to join Neymar, Andres Iniesta and Xavi in attack in Italy.

The seven-time European champion Italians will be buoyed by news that Balotelli, their mercurial, gifted striker is fit to feature after missing the weekend match through injury, though.

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These two giants of the game have played each other on 17 occasions with Barca leading the series with seven wins, AC Milan capturing five victories and the two sharing the spoils on five other occasions.

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Real Madrid v Juventus, Santiago Bernabeu, 2:45 p.m. Wednesday

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Of eight games to be played on Wednesday in Europe’s finest, most prestigious soccer tournament the Group B match between Real Madrid and Juventus jumps off the screen.

Los Blancos have run riot in the competition thus far, pummeling Turkish kings Galatasaray in Istanbul 6-1 before turning on the style in Spain against FC Copenhagen to win 4-0. Cristiano Ronaldo looks a man on a mission having netted five goals in those two contests.

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The Old Lady, meanwhile, has looked underwhelming. The back-to-back Scudetto winners only managed a shock draw in Denmark and couldn’t muster a better result against a reinvigorated Galatasary side in Italy three weeks ago, conceding a late equalizer to substitute Umut Bulut. Juventus will eye a better start against Real Madrid as they have conceded the first goal in both European games thus far.

Los Galaticos will want to continue winning ways and better integrate record signing Gareth Bale into the squad after the Welshman has struggled to settle. They have a sterling home record against Italian teams with 21 victories, two draws and six losses in 29 all-time matches. Four of those victories and two of those losses have come against Juventus, who haven’t traveled ot the Santiago Bernabeu since 2008, when club legend Alessandro Del Piero notched a double to grab a famous win for the Bianconeri.

This one features plenty of history and soccer skill on each side.

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