For the first time in 3 years, the Italian Serie A managed to get 4 Clubs to the UEFA Champions League Group Stage. With the DRAW taking place yesterday, “someone came out smiling” and others not so much. “Four Italian teams and four levels of satisfaction” as Gazzetta would say.
Let’s have a look.
All things considered, Inter were the luckiest ones. Being seeded in the first pot certainly gave them a big advantage, but they also avoided all the tough obstacles (e.g. Bayern Munich & Villareal from pot 2, Zenit & Marseille from pot 3). José Mourinho & Co. will thus face Diego’s Werder Bremen, Panathinaikos and Cyprus’ Anorthosis Famagosta. On paper a fairly easy group, as it’s difficult to find a squad that could cause problems for Inter.
Werder Bremen ranked 3rd in the Bundesliga last year, solidly ranking in the top 3 since 2004. They also have the reputation of being very productive goalscoring-wise, but alas at a cost: they concede a lot too. Against Mourinho’s openly attacking-style 4-3-3 formation (who unlike Werder contains some pretty solid defenders at the back) expect the Nerazzurri to prevail.
As for the other two teams, Panathinaikos should provide an interesting match-up if only to see Giorgos Karagounis meet his old teammates again (the Greek midfielder spent two seasons in Milan, with only 20 club appearances however). Also, the biggest curiosity will be the match against Anorthosis, champions of the Cyprus first division and a first-timer in the Champions League (getting rid of Rapid Wien and Olympiakos on the way). Their nickname is “the Old Lady”, but… does anyone believe they could be as strong as Juve?
|1 October||Inter||Werder Brema|
|9 December||Werder Brema||Inter|
The silver medal in satisfaction goes to Roma. As a second seed, the Giallorossi couldn’t avoid one of the big ones, but I’m sure every Romanista smiled when the club dodged the big Man Utd bullet here.
Not that Chelsea is necessarily a better deal mind you. The UCL 2007-08 finalists are back stronger than ever this year, scoring 4 unanswered goals in their EPL debut. Since last season, big-name recruits like Deco (£8m), José Bosingwa (£16m) and very soon, Robinho, have fortified the ranks of the EPL juggernaught, who will undoubtedly have a score to settle with fate after losing last year’s competition to penalty kicks.
Apart from playing against the Blues, Roma will have to face Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux, Ligue 1 runners-up and the only team that could provide a serious title challenge to Lyon last year. They also now have former AC Milan player Yohann Gourcuff in their ranks.
Finally there is CFR Cluj, a Romanian football club from the city of Cluj-Napoca. Another first-timer in the Champions League, but one who managed to outrank veterans like Steaua Bucharest in last year’s Romanian Liga I. If you have a look at their current team roster, you’ll notice they actually have very few Romanians on the squad. Could *they* be the Inter Milan of Transylvania?
Things could have turned out a bit better for here. Although they had some luck (Schalke, who had a better UEFA coefficient than the Bianconeri, was conveniently eliminated in the Preliminary Round, putting the Old Lady in pot nº2), Juventus were probably hoping for an easier group.
Zenit St. Petersburg, who will play the UEFA Super Cup final against Manchester United today, were one of the most feared unknowns. That Andrei Arshavin guy is one freakingly good player, and no, I don’t believe he’s overrated. (and let’s not forget last year’s UEFA Cup topscorer, who managed to score as many goals as Luca Toni, a certain Pavel Pogrebnyak)
Belarus’ Bate Borisov seem to be the easiest opponent in Group H, but let’s not forget they got rid of Anderlecht and Levski Sofia (not exactly UCL newbies) to get here.
|30 September||Bate Borisov||Juventus|
|21 October||Juventus||Real Madrid|
|5 November||Real Madrid||Juventus|
|10 December||Juventus||Bate Borisov|
Finally, those getting the short end of the stick were undoubtedly Fiorentina, something which everyone expected because of their low ranking (pot 4).
With an ironic twist of fate: Toni and Bayern Munich is a recipe for an exciting match, but one which will prove of considerable difficulty for La Viola. The German giants need no introduction really, having regularly appeared on top of European football in the past decade (and beyond). A bleak 2006-07 campaign resulted in the club’s chairmen to make massive moves on the transfer market, resuling in talented recruits such as Hamit Altintop, Miroslav Klose, Franck Ribéry, and the aforementioned Luca Toni. The following year Bayern won 3/4 tournaments they were competing in.
Lyon and Steaua Bucharest aren’t easy opponents either. The French club has been dominating the Ligue 1 scene since 2002 (when, believe it or not, they won their first French championship). From then on, there was virtually only one club dining at the big 1st-spot table in France, all the others playing for scraps. As for the Romanians, they have not won their home league since 2006 but remain the most decorated football club in the country (with 23 championship titles).
|21 October||Bayern Munich||Fiorentina|
|5 November||Fiorentina||Bayern Munich|
For the full table of the UEFA Champions League 2008-09 Group Stage draw, see this post.
Tags: Anorthosis, Bate Borisov, Bayern Munich, Bordeaux, CFR Cluj, Chelsea, Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Juventus, Lyon, Panathinaikos, Real Madrid, Roma, Steaua Bucharest, UEFA Champions League, Werder Bremen, Zenit