The much awaited Champions League draw has come to an end at the French Principality of Monaco and this year it has thrown up some mouthwatering clashes. Thirty-two of Europe’s elite teams will battle it out from September 15 to for a shot at Europe’s biggest prize in the final at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu on May 22, 2010.
Bayern Munich (GER)
Maccabi Haifa (ISR)
Manchester United (ENG)
CSKA Moscow (RUS)
AC Milan (ITA)
Real Madrid (ESP)
Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Inter Milan (ITA)
Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
Unirea Urziceni (ROM)
AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Standard Liege (BEL)
The new Champions League qualification format has provided some interesting teams for this season’s tournament, with 18 of the 32 participators being domestic league winners. Not for a long time has the title ‘Champions League’ been more relevant.
Looking at the groups individually, Group A has pitted former winners Bayern Munich and Juventus against each other with French champions Bordeaux providing a tricky flavour to a group that is completed by Israeli underdogs Maccabi Haifa. On paper, Bayern and Juventus are favourites to go through yet Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux could upset a few calculations come December.
Last year’s runners up and 2007/08 winners Manchester United have been drawn in Group B alongside Turkish champions Besiktas, newcomers and Bundesliga winners Wolfsburg and Russian side CSKA Moscow. United fans might be well satisfied with the group yet Sir Alex Fergusson would know that the away trips will be long and all three sides have the capacity to spring major upsets, particularly at home. For VFL Wolfsburg the 2009/10 season is surely going to be exciting as the German champions under Armin Veh would be anxious to prove that their Bundesliga win last season is no fluke. This is the ultimate stage for Edin Dzeko and company to showcase their talents to the world.
Brazilian playmaker Kaka is quick to return to Milan as his new club Real Madrid has drawn former employers AC Milan in Group C. A couple of scintillating ties to look forward to as Ronaldinho and Pato go head to head with Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. The presence of Olympique Marseille and FC Zurich will certainly make this group interesting.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea has a tough group to handle as the London club is scheduled to meet FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and debutants APOEL in Group D. Given the quality of the Blues, there should not be any real problem to book a place at the knockout stage, although the ties against Atletico Madrid might just prove to be intriguing.
Five-time European champions Liverpool are in Group E along with Olympique Lyonnais, ACF Fiorentina and first timers Debreceni VSC of Hungary. Certainly a tricky group and, given the ordinary start to the domestic season, Rafael Benitez’s side cannot take any match for granted. The Anfield passion will need to once again play a part in the Reds’ quest for a sixth European title.
Group F has an Eastern European flavour to it but it has also pitted defending champions Barcelona against Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. For obvious reasons the clashes between the two traditional continental giants would be fantastic to watch but, due to the summer swap deal of Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic involving the two clubs, the two ties are now even more mouthwatering. As well as the two titanic Italy vs. Spain clashes, both Inter and Barca need to battle the cold as Dynamo Kiev and Russian champions Rubin Kazan complete the group.
Group G can be called the group of the underdogs as Sevilla are joined by Glasgow Rangers, VFB Stuttgart and another newcomer from Romania Unirea Urziceni. Sevilla are favourites to go through from this group as Rangers and Stuttgart would fight for the second spot.
Of all the British clubs, Arsenal have been rewarded with the most straightforward group with Olympiacos, AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege making up the numbers. Having seen off Celtic in the play-off round, Arsene Wenger’s side can dream of a successful Champions League run should they qualify from their group.
The world can look forward to an exciting Champions League season with monumental ties on offer straight from the first round. The group-stage fixtures will be played through until December. The group winners and runners-up will progress to the first knockout round in the spring, with the final to be staged at the Santiago Bernab