Welcome to the big league: Spurs drawn against the holders Inter

Mourinho faces bumpy ride with Real but English sides are given a good chance to make the knockout stages

James Wrigley
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:57

It was the draw Peter Crouch said he wanted most of all after scoring the hat-trick against Young Boys that led Tottenham into the Champions League. In Monaco last night, right on cue, Spurs joined the European Cup holders Internazionale in Group A. Perhaps he should be more careful when he makes a wish in future.

But Crouch was in bouyant mood, saying: "If we're organised and do a job away from home, I don't think any team will enjoy coming to White Hart Lane. We've got the players to take the game to them and, if we're on our game, we can beat anyone. I think if we're solid and tactically aware, there's no limit to what we can achieve.

"The double-winning Sixties side was part of such a fantastic era in Tottenham's history and we've got a chance to try to be a part of that history," he added.

Spurs will also be wary of the two remaining teams in their group, Werder Bremen, third in the Bundesliga last season, and FC Twente, the Dutch champions who lost former England manager Steve McClaren to Wolfsburg in the summer. But if Crouch and his manager Harry Redknapp wanted showpiece fixtures, the games against Rafael Benitez's Inter Milan will tick their boxes.

Crouch also revealed how he was inspired by the famous Champions League anthem on Wednesday, the first time he had heard it while on the field for a game for more than two years. "It's such an amazing theme tune, isn't it?" he said. "You stand there and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and all the crowd get going. When you hear that music, you realise you're playing the biggest competition in the world."

The draw was certainly fairly benign as far as the Premier League's established order were concerned, but not so for Jose Mourinho and his latest employers, the nine-times winners Real Madrid. Mourinho, who guided Internazionale to last season's success in the Bernabeu final, must return to San Siro to face Milan in this year's "group of death", which also includes Ajax and Auxerre.

There will be no heavyweight collisions for Chelsea – third favourites behind Barcelona and Madrid – after they were drawn in Group F with Marseilles, Didier Drogba's former club, Spartak Moscow and Slovakian side Zilnia. Carlo Ancelotti's team will return to the Luzhniki Stadium to face Spartak, scene of their 2008 final defeat on penalties against Manchester United.

The Chelsea director and club secretary, David Barnard, said: "We've got to be fairly happy with that." Barnard, who said Chelsea had no new signings in the offing, hopes the fact the final is at Wembley will be a spur. "Since Wembley opened we've been there eight times now. You like to play a final on foreign soil but you never know, Wembley is a lucky omen for us and may well be this year."

The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, will look forward to facing Rangers, the team he supported and for whom he made his name as a player. Valencia and the Turkish champions Bursaspor make up Group C. "You can't complain about that, it's a good draw for us," he said. "You always look at the travelling side of it and the only one that's of any great distance is the trip to Turkey."

Ferguson will be reunited with his former assistant Walter Smith, who is in the last year of his second spell a sRangers manager. "Walter Smith's already been on the phone, talking about tickets for Old Trafford," he quipped. "Like me, he's really looking forward to our games against each other."

Arsenal were handed what on paper looked a relatively easy task in Group H alongside Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Braga of Portugal and Partizan Belgrade. Ivan Gazidis, chief executive at the Emirates, could not help looking as far ahead as the Wembley final next May. "There is a real incentive for all English clubs, especially the London clubs," Gazidis said. "It would be fantastic to play in the final in London."

Barcelona, quoted as 5-2 favourites last night, meet Panathinaikos, Denmark's Copenhagen and the big-spending Russian champions, FC Rubin Kazan.

Group A: Tottenham Hotspur

Having been staring down the barrel of another campaign in the twilight world of the Europa League Tottenham are more likely to be thrilled than disheartened at the prospect of facing Internazionale. However, although Jose Mourinho has left the holders, most of his treble-winning squad remain and there are few better than Rafael Benitez at plotting their way through a European tie. The former Liverpool manager will not be short of knowledge about his old Premier League opponents either.

But if it is hard to envisage Spurs toppling Internazionale, second place should be within their reach. Werder no longer have Mesut Ozil pulling the strings and only just eclipsed Sampdoria in the qualifying round. Marko Marin needs to be watched, but they are beatable – as Manchester United and Fulham proved last season. Twente, like Inter, have lost their coach, in this case Steve McClaren. Unlike Inter they have also lost several players including powerful striker Nkufo Blaise, free-scoring Austrian Marc Janko is his replacement.


Manager: Rafael Benitez

Where finished in league: First

Best European Cup performance: Winners 1964, 1965, 2010

Key player: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)

Uefa Ranking: 8

Werder Bremen

Manager: Thomas Schaaf

Where finished in league: Third

Best European Cup performance: Second round 2006

Key player: Claudio Pizarro (Peru)

Uefa Ranking: 11

FC Twente

Manager: Michel Preud'homme

Where finished in league: First

Best European Cup performance: Group stage 2011

Key player: Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica)

Uefa Ranking: 84

Group C: Manchester United & Glasgow Rangers

Is a fourth European crown the priority for United, one which, as Sir Alex Ferguson has said, is the starting point to be ranked among the continent's true super powers like Real Madrid, Milan, Bayern Munich and, er, Liverpool? Or is a 20th domestic title, one more than Liverpool's 19, the aim? We will not find out until the spring because he can continue rotating his squad while cruising through this group.

Ferguson will enjoy facing Rangers, the team he watched as a boy and played for as a man. Manchester police may be worried after the problems which marred Rangers' appearance in their city in the 2008 Uefa Cup final when they visit next month for the opening game but United will not. It is not so much 17 years as an eternity since Rangers were a result away from reaching the Champions League final, these days simply reaching the group stages is an achievement in itself (as Celtic will be acutely aware). Such are the budgetary constraints Walter Smith operates under, Rangers will do very well to reach the knock-out stages. Nevertheless, the 2008 Uefa Cup run showed what can be done and their Ibrox form could take them though.

That is in part because this is a very good time to play Valencia. David Villa and David Silva helped them reach the Champions League, but have now been sold to pay the bills. The tie will be in the atmospheric but dated La Mestalla – the new ground is half-built, a monument to the club's misjudged ambition.

Bursaspor represent more of a geographic problem than a footballing one. Away matches in Turkey are never easy and this one will be in Asia Minor, but the 'Green Crocodiles' lack experience at this level. This is not just their Champions League bow, they were last in Europe in 1986. Ertugrul Saglam's squad is predominantly Turkish with a sprinkling of Argentines and eastern Europeans. Perhaps the most notable is Federico Insúa, an occasional Argentine international with experience in Germany and Spain.


Manager: Unai Emery

Last season's domestic finish: Third

Best European Cup performance: Finalists 2000, 2001

Key player: David Albelda (Spain)

Uefa Ranking: 20


Manager: Ertugrul Saglam

Last season's domestic finish: First

Best European Cup performance: Group stages 2011

Key player: Sercan Yildirim (Turkey)

Uefa Ranking: n/a

Group F: Chelsea

The domestic trophies have been rolling in but Europe remains the final frontier for Roman Abramovich – the sight of Jose Mourinho winning the big prize last year must have been galling indeed. Carlo Ancelotti, a winner as a player and a coach with AC Milan, was hired with the Champions League in mind. The group stages should not be too problematic, with Spartak Moscow the main threat. The Russians play on the same plastic pitch which discomfited Steve McClaren's England and they have spending power – as illustrated by the £9m acquisition of Aiden McGeady. A trip to Moscow also raises logistical concerns.

Didier Deschamps will receive a warm reception at Stamford Bridge but his Marseilles team are well short of Chelsea. Even the Stade Velodrome should not be intimidating, not when Didier Drogba will receive a hero's welcome. Zilinia have played six matches already having come through the qualifiers. Their presence is an indication of the rising strength of Slovakian football but they should not trouble Chelsea.


Manager: Didier Deschamps

Last season's domestic finish: First

Best European Cup performance: Winners 1993

Key player: André-Pierre Gignac (France)

Uefa Ranking: 25

Spartak Moscow

Manager: Valery Karpin

Last season's domestic finish: Second

Best European performance: Semi-final 1991 Key player: Aiden McGeady (Ireland) Uefa Ranking: 63

MSK Zilina

Manager: Pavel Hapal

Last season's domestic finish: First

Best European performance: Group stages 2011

Key player: Thomas Majtan (Cz Rep)

Uefa Ranking: 150

Group H: Arsenal

A tricky draw for Arsenal, though it is negotiable and there should be some attractive football. They have defeated Shakhtar Donetsk in the past but it was close then and will be again. The Ukranian champions have a core of Brazilians (including former Gunner Eduardo), former Barça defender Dmitro Chygrynsky, and play with a fluency Arsène Wenger will appreciate. Fulham knocked them out of the Europa Cup last season, but were outplayed in Donetsk.

Partizan Belgrade is another lengthy journey, though the squad has lost key players, notably in defence. Braga represent unpredictable opposition. They came second in Portugal on the back of a strong defence but have since sold national goalkeeper Eduardo and lost former Newcastle midfielder Hugo Viana. But they defeated Seville, including Fabiano in the qualifying round.

Shakhtar Donetsk

Manager: Mircea Lucescu

Last season's domestic finish: First

Best European Cup performance: Group stages 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009

Key player: Fernandinho (Brazil)

Uefa Ranking: 16


Manager: Domingos Paciencia

Last season's domestic finish: Second

Best European Cup performance: Group stages this season

Key player: Albert Meyong (Cameroon)

Uefa Ranking: 48

Partizan Belgrade

Manager: Alexander Stanojevic

Last season's domestic finish: First

Best European Cup performance: Runners-up 1966

Key player: Almami Moreira (Portugal)

Uefa Ranking: 123

Other groups...

Group B

Lyons, Benfica, Schalke, Hapoel Tel Aviv

The weakest of the groups. Lyons will struggle to make the semis again, while Schalke could push Benfica for second.

Group D

Barcelona, Panathinaikos, Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan

Barça have been handed an easy ride, although will not underestimate Kazan after losing at home to them last season.

Barcelona v Rubin Kazan (7 Dec)

The Russian minnows pulled off one of the shocks of last season's competition, winning 2-1 at the Nou Camp to shock the holders with goals from Aleksandr Ryazantsev and Gökdeniz Karadeniz. Kazan also held the Spaniards in the return match, and Barca manager Pep Guardiola will surely have his side more prepared for the challenge of the Russians - replete with new signing Obafemi Martins - this time around.

Group E

Bayern Munich, Roma, Basle, CFR Cluj

Four-time winners Bayern are heavy favourites, while Claudio Ranieri should be confident of following Munich through.

Bayern Munich v Roma (15 Sep)

Louis van Gaal enjoyed a fine season at the Allianz Arena last season, taking Bayern to the brink of a treble, just missing out in last year's final against Inter. The Germans need to show that last year was not a one-off against a Roma outfit big on European pedigree but low on recent success. Claudio Ranieri's side are in turmoil - half the squad up for sale and talisman Francesco Totti waning in influence at the age of 33.

Group G

Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax, Auxerre

Europe has a group of death to savour with three of the five most successful European Cup sides drawn together.

Ajax v Milan (28 Sep)

Two of Europe's recent underacheivers lock horns, evoking memories of the 1995 final, when a youthful Ajax prevailed through a Patrick Kluivert goal. The pair total 11 European Cups between them, although neither have won their domestic league since 2004. Milan will be favourites, though with last seasons' 49-goal Luis Suarez already up and running for this season, Ajax have a chance of replicating their '95 success.

Milan v Real Madrid (3 Nov)

Madrid's recent descent into European mediocrity led to them again being placed in the second seeds where they once again drew Milan. Reluctant to leave in the first place, Kaka played over 200 games in six years at San Siro and gets a second chance to return inside a year. Jose Mourinho is another who gets the chance of a reunion - of sorts - returning to the ground on which he won the treble with Inter last season.

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