|Beckham, 34, is playing at the top level seven years after leaving Utd [GALLO/GETTY]
David Beckham may miss out on his dream of playing against former side Manchester United in the European Champions League quarter-finals – but is prepared to take disappointment in his stride.
Milan coach Leonardo knows how much it means for Beckham to face Alex Ferguson's men for the first time since leaving for Real Madrid in 2003.
But the England midfielder has been on the bench for the last two league games and the return from injury of forward Alexandre Pato makes it even less likely the 34-year-old will start Tuesday's first leg at the San Siro.
"I always said when I came to the club that I never expect to start any game," said Beckham, who won the 1999 Champions League with his boyhood club.
Milan, who have never lost to United over two legs and have won their four encounters in Italy, snapped a four-game winless run in Friday's 3-2 victory over Udinese.
On-loan LA Galaxy player Beckham came on with 15 minutes left and played one dreadful pass which almost led to an Udinese goal as Ferguson watched from the stands.
Worse for Milan was a thigh muscle injury which forced centre back Thiago Silva to go off.
The Brazilian is battling to shake off the problem and partner fit-again Alessandro Nesta at the back while Klaas Jan Huntelaar could again deputise for striker Marco Borriello.
English champions United have fewer injury worries but centre back Nemanja Vidic is out with a nerve problem in his leg and Beckham's ex-team mate Ryan Giggs has a broken arm.
"It's a big shame that Giggsy is out. To play on the same field as Giggsy against him would have been really nice," said Beckham.
"Hopefully he'll be fit soon and may make the second leg (on March 10)."
United, who were beaten in last year's final with Barcelona, lost to Milan in the 2007 semi-finals before winning the trophy for the third time in 2008.
They welcome back Rio Ferdinand from a domestic suspension.
Striker Wayne Rooney is in the form of his life but is taking nothing for granted against the seven-times champions.
"Milan have a number of players who can score goals, particularly from set pieces, so I think we'll have to be wary of that," Rooney told United's website.
Another of Beckham's former teams will be in action at the same time on Tuesday, with Real Madrid facing French side Lyon.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who followed the same path as Beckham by joining Madrid from United last year, says he is obsessed with winning the Champions League.
|Ronaldo won the Champions League with Utd in 2008 [AFP]
The Portugal winger's last match for United was the loss to Barcelona in May.
Real, however, have failed to reach the quarter-finals since 2004.
"It's a long time. It's time to bring that to an end," Ronaldo, who has a winner's medal from 2008, said.
"If Real Madrid can't beat Lyon then we can't think about winning the Champions League."
Real and Lyon – like all eight teams playing in the last-16 this week – are not top of their domestic divisions.
Wednesday night's matches see Bayern Munich – second in Germany – host Fiorentina, who are 11th in Italy's Serie A.
Arsenal play Porto, with the English and Portuguese teams third in their respective leagues.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies