Football: Chelsea prepare for 'Group of Death' in Geneva

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The Independent Online
THIS MORNING in Geneva the movers and shakers of Uefa will be quietly pleased as they prepare to make the draw for the second group stage of the Champions' League.

They have lost Milan, which is a blow and not just because they are a marquee name. It is also the public vehicle for Silvio Berlusconi, one of the leading backers of the Super League proposals which forced Uefa to expand the Champions' League to 32 teams.

However, Berlusconi has enough domestic problems at present not to be diverted into rattling Uefa again and, in every other respect, the last 16 are ideal.

With England, Italy, Germany and France each having two representatives, and Spain three, the paymasters of television and corporate sponsorship are very happy. With five other national champions from smaller federations (Portugal, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Norway and the Ukraine) included the competition retains an air of legitimacy.

There are new names, such as Chelsea, Lazio and Valencia, and hallowed ones such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, winners of 11 titles between them.

This morning's draw is likely to present United with an easier task than Chelsea as the holders will be seeded. Although Uefa are still calculating the latest co-efficients, on which rankings are based, Chelsea are likely to be in the second tier. That means, unlike United, they will play one of Lazio, Barcelona and Real Madrid (the other top seeds).

Chelsea cannot draw United (to ensure maximum television interest, teams from the same nation cannot play each other) but could get both Bayern Munich and Dynamo Kiev.

Meanwhile, as Gianluca Vialli stressed on Wednesday night, they must apply the same sense of purpose they showed against Berlin to the task of regaining ground in the Premier League. Currently ninth, they are 10 points behind Leeds and, though they have two games in hand, are unable to fit one in before returning to Europe because of the England-Scotland games.

Further fixture congestion is probable and Vialli, therefore, is likely to continue to rotate his players. So he should, the problem is not so much one of personnel as attitude - though Dennis Wise's suspension clearly exacerbates this. At least Sunday's match against West Ham, being a London derby, should possess the buzz that some of his players need to lift themselves.

Finally, there was one other English performance of interest on Wednesday. Graham Barber, the Tring referee, officiating at the Valencia-PSV Eindhoven match, was involved in the type of incident which provides fodder for 'You are the Ref' quizzes.

With 20 minutes to go and the score 0-0 he awarded a free-kick to Valencia just outside the area. Claudio Lopez took it but, instead of shooting, attempted to pass to his team-mate, Gonzalez. The pass hit the heel of Barber, who had been moving away from the ball, and rebounded to Lopez. The Argentine, now with a better angle, shot past the wall and into the net. Goal?

It should not have been, the referee is regarded as an inanimate object in these circumstances, much like a goalpost. By playing the ball a second time before it had been touched by another player Lopez had infringed Law 13. The correct decision was an indirect free-kick to PSV. Barber gave the goal.

It proved to be the only score of the match but fortunately for Barber not only did no one present appear to realise, the result, though it will have cost PSV money, did not affect the group standings.

CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE LAST 16

POT 1

Man Utd

Lazio

Barcelona Real Madrid

POT 2

Chelsea Sparta Prague Valencia Rosenborg

POT 3

Bordeaux Porto Bayern Munich Feyenoord

POT 4

Marseilles Hertha Berlin Dynamo Kiev Fiorentina

THE DRAW for the second group stage will take place at 11am in Geneva today. The 16 clubs will be drawn into four groups. Each group will consist of one club from each of four pots. The four group winners from the first group stage with the best Uefa co-efficients are in pot 1. The other four group winners are in pot 2. The four group runners- up with the best co-efficients are in pot 3. The other four group runners- up are in pot 4. Clubs from the same country cannot be drawn into the same group; nor can clubs from the same first-stage group.

The above list of pots is provisional. Uefa will confirm the final list today.

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