Thursday, August 27, 2009

Champions League Draw

Hot off the presses, the Champions League draw is out. Group-by-group:

Group A
Bayern Munich
Maccabi Haifa

Bayern Munich and Juventus will be favorites to go through, but will have to deal with Bordeaux, which won the French Ligue 1 for the first time in a decade last season. Maccabi Haifa were the first Israeli team ever to qualify for the Champions League and return this year, but not much will be expected.

Group B
Manchester United
CSKA Moscow

United were all set to have a comfortable draw until they drew the German champions Wolfsburg from the fourth group of teams. Still, United will almost certainly go through. More likely to be affected are Russian runners-up CSKA Moscow and Turkish champions Besiktas, who have to deal with another side with a legitimate chance to go through. Indeed, Wolfsburg are possibly favorites for the second spot.

Group C
AC Milan
Real Madrid
FC Zurich

Real Madrid weirdly found themselves in the second pool of teams chosen after five years of Champions League mediocrity. But they didn't pay too heavy a price in drawing AC Milan, a very good side, but not as bad as drawing Chelsea or Man United. Still, the Milan-Madrid matchups will certainly be compelling, with Kaka returning to San Siro and Huntelaar returning to the Bernabeu. Not to be overlooked is Marseille, who will be dangerous and could claim a spot in the knockout round if Milan or Madrid slip up. To be overlooked is FC Zurich, because they are from the Swiss league.

Group D
FC Porto
Atletico Madrid

In a word, brutal. Chelsea, Porto and Atletico face elimination early, as only two can advance. The Portugese champions and surprise 2004 champions have advanced from the group stage the last three years. Atletico returns to the Champions League after advancing from the group stage last year and falling, ironically, to Porto. And Chelsea have obviously been a consistent force in recent Champions League history, and would have been champions two years ago if John Terry could convert on a penalty. The action in this group should be intense. The team everyone will be looking to claim six points from is Cypriot champions APOEL, the second year in a row a team from Cyprus has appeared in the Champions League.

Group E
Olympique Lyonnais

Liverpool also won't be sending any thank you notes to UEFA for the draw, earning Lyon, who are always a difficult out in Europe, and Fiorentina, who progressed through a difficult qualifier against Sporting Lisbon on away goals. Assuming Liverpool go through, the battle for second place will be intriguing. Hungarian champions Debreceni round out the group. Their stadium has a capacity of 9200 sitting and room for another 1000 to stand. Couldn't make that up. Thank you Wikipedia.

Group F
Inter Milan
Dynamo Kiev
Rubin Kazan

Perhaps the most mouth-watering fixtures come from Group F, where the Spanish champions and title holders face the Italian champions home and away. Obviously the Ibra-Eto'o swap between Barcelona and Inter only adds to the intrigue. While those two matchups will obviously capture most of the attention, the other two squads shouldn't be overlooked. Dynamo Kiev has Champions League pedigree, having made the semifinals three times. And Rubin Kazan finished champions of the very respectable Russian league, currently ranked sixth in the league UEFA rankings, just behind France. Not to mention the big clubs have to travel to Ukraine and Russia, respectively. Not fun. An intriguing group all the way around.

Group G
Unirea Urziceni

Sevilla's reward for being in Pot 1 for the draw is leading a very managable group. Scottish champion Rangers are the second side, which isn't exactly like drawing Inter or Real Madrid. Stuttgart is a quality side and will have a good chance to progress. Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni round out the group.

Group H
AZ Alkmaar
Standard Liege

Arsenal also fall into the "easy draw" category for this draw in Group H. Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar worked their way into Pot 2 for the draw because of their extensive Europa Cup experience over the past few years. The Greek and Belgian champions round out the group. Arsenal should go through quite easily, the question is who else will go through.

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