Real and Juventus meet in toughest Champions League groupAugust 29th, 2008 - 4:35 pm ICT by IANS
Monaco, Aug 29 (DPA) Real Madrid and resurgent Italian giants Juventus are set to meet in what looks like the toughest group of the forthcoming Champions League campaign following Thursday’s draw in Monaco.The two also confront current UEFA Cup champions Zenit St Petersburg - now another high-spending outfit - in Group H which has Belarus champions Bate Borisov as fourth challenger.
Defending champions Manchester United confront Scottish champions Celtic in what will yield two great clashes between the British clubs, with Spain’s Villareal and Danish champions Aalborg the other Group E representatives.
Last season’s runners-up Chelsea face AS Roma, Bordeaux and Romanians CFR Cluj in Group A, while Inter Milan and Werder Bremen will do battle in Group B along with Greek champions Panathinaikos and the first ever Cypriot outfit to contest the Champions League, Anorthosis Famagusta.
Liverpool face Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven, Marseille and the difficult Atletico Madrid in Group D, while in Group F the other French side in the draw Lyon are up against German giants Bayern Munich, Steua Bucharest and a resurgent Fiorentina.
The fourth English side in the draw, Arsenal, are up against FC Porto, Turkish champions Fenerbahce and Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kiev in an awkward-looking Group G, while Group C pits Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon against Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Juve’s administrator, Jean-Claude Blanc, said of his side’s tough-looking group: “For us it’s great to be welcomed back to the Champions League with a classic encounter against Real Madrid.
“But there’s also Zenit, who represent the progression of East European teams. Our players need to remember that they’re playing at the highest level and that Juve are back.”
The all-British duel between Manchester United and Celtic repeats an encounter in the Champions League group stages in 2006/07. Celtic won 1-0 at home but Manchester United were 3-2 winners in the return leg at Old Trafford.
“It was a great event the last time we played,” said United chief executive David Gill.
“Both clubs have passionate fans and we’re looking forward to it. Last time they won (at Celtic) to qualify and we went down to the last game to ensure we went through.
“The players and the fans will already be looking to that fixture on the calendar.”
Celtic chairman John Reid said: “It’s fabulous for Celtic fans. There are no easy groups, there are no free passes in Europe.
“We’re just proud to be Scotland’s representative in there and to be playing the European champions.”
Arsenal director Danny Fiszman had mixed feelings about his side’s draw.
“One of the big issues for (manager) Arsene (Wenger) is the distances we have to travel. They are long trips and that’s the most disappointing aspect of the draw,” he said.
“But we’re optimistic and confident we will get to the knockout stages.”
Bayern Munich coach Juergen Klinsmann said the meeting with Fiorentina would be special for the club’s Italy striker Luca Toni who joined Bayern from the Florence side in the summer of 2007.
Bayern have also unhappy memories of Lyon who beat Bayern 3-0 in 2001, although the Germans recovered to win the European title that season.
“This is a tough group and Lyon are a hard opponent. Fiorentina are attractive because of Luca Toni and Steau Bucharest are strong on the ball,” he said.
Match dates are September 16/17, September 30/October 1, October 21/22, November 4/5, November 25/26, December 9/10.
The eight group winners plus the runners-up go through to the knockout stages of the competition. Teams finishing third go into the UEFA Cup.
Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will stage the Champions League final next May 27.