Champions League – The Italian view

By Steve Mitchell
Barcelona are the reigning Champions

Barcelona are the reigning Champions

As club football’s most coveted tournament kicks off this evening, The Sport Review takes a look at the prospects for the four Italian clubs in this season’s competition.

Group A
JUVENTUS, Bordeaux, Bayern Munich, Maccabi Haifa

Ciro Ferrara will be confident of guiding his side through the group phase but it will certainly not be easy. The Bianconeri kick off their quest on Tuesday evening in Turin against Lauren Blanc’s ever improving Bordeaux in a match that looks set to shape the group.

Ferrara, a veteran of many European campaigns as a player, knows only too well the importance of winning home games and nothing less than three points will suffice at the Stadio Olimpico against the reigning French champions, before the mouth watering trip to the Allianz Arena to face German giants Bayern Munich on matchday two.

Louis van Gaal’s side have made an indifferent start to the Bundesliga season but a 5-1 demolition away to Borussia Dortmund on Saturday was the perfect tonic for their opener away to group underdogs Maccabi Haifa. If Ferrara’s men can avoid defeat in Munich and Bordeaux, then their home form should see them into the last 16.

Group C
AC MILAN, Marseille, Real Madrid, FC Zurich

Milan CEO Adriano Galliani, speaking in Monday’s Italian sports daily Gazzetta Dello Sport explained that the Champions League is Milan’s “natural home”, one wonders for how much longer after an awful start to the league campaign.

Tuesday’s opener in the hostile inferno that is the Stade Velodrome in Marseille is a tough baptism for Leonardo’s confidence hit side. Ronaldinho is simply not fit and all Rossoneri hopes will lie with the immense experience of Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta, and the firepower of Alexandre Pato and Klaas Jan Huntelaar.

Assuming that Real Madrid take first place in the group, one would suspect that the head to head with Didier Deschamps side will be the defining matches in this group. Swiss side FC Zurich will be strong at home but look an outside bet to get to the last 16. Failure to reach the knock out stages of the competition could well see Leonardo’s reign as Milan Coach brought to a premature end.

Group E
FIORENTINA, Liverpool, Lyon, Debrecan

One year on from their first Champions League campaign for over a decade, Cesare Prandelli will hope his side have learned valuable lessons to help them get through to the knock out phase this time around.

A very difficult group for the Viola kicks off Wednesday with a tricky test in Lyon where Claude Puel’s side are very difficult to beat. One point would be considered a successful return before matchday two’s home blockbuster against Liverpool.

Hungarian side Debrecan are a bit of an unknown quantity at this level, but Prandelli will expect six points from both games against the group’s rank outsiders. Liverpool will start as clear group favourites but don’t underestimate the Tuscan side that could surprise in this season’s competition.

Group F
INTER MILAN, Barcelona, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan

One of the most eagerly awaited clashes of the season takes place on Wednesday evening at the San Siro when Internazionale entertain Barcelona in matchday one. There has been so much anticipation and speculation since the draw was made as to the significance of this must see encounter.

Will the returning Zlatan Ibrahimovich break Nerazzurri hearts or can Samuel Eto’o steal the show against his former employers. All over the pitch there are so many match winners who could make this a contest to remember. Jose Mourinho knows that President Massimo Morratti demands success in this competition and this is surely Inter Milan’s best chance for many years. Secretly, both Mourinho and

Pep Guardiola the Barcelona coach, would settle for a point from the opening round as both clubs are expected to progress from the group. Dynamo Kiev’s best years are behind them even if the returning Andriy Shevchenko believes his side can qualify for the knockout phase. Rubin Kazan are Russian champions but it is difficult to make a case for their progression into the latter stages.

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