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UEFA Champions League

UEFA Champions’ League Group Stage Begins

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As the group stage of the UEFA Champions League opens this Tuesday, there are records in the offing. Manchester United’s manager, Jose Mourinho will not just be delighted that the club is returning to top flight European football after a year of ‘sabbatical’ leave, he is aiming to be the first person to manage three different clubs to European glory should Manchester United emerge champions next year’s May.

In similar circumstances, defending champions, Real Madrid will be aiming to be the first club to achieve a three straight win since the feat of Germany’s Bayern Munich in the 1970s.

 

 

GROUP A (BENFICA, MANCHESTER UNITED, BASEL, CSKA MOSCOW)

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In Group A where Manchester United squares up with the trio Portugal’s Benfica, Switzerland’s Basel and Russia’s CSKA Moscow, the English Premership side is expected to start as the group favourite having obtained 10 points out of possible 12 in the new English premiership season.

Manchester United will open its account facing Basel at Old Trafford at 7.45 pm. Basel is reportedly weakened by persistent sales of top players since eliminating United in the 2011 groups.

The club which has been without a win in eight European games, drawing three and losing five had in the 2011/12 season faced Manchester United in the group stage. Basel won and drew the other match.

Manchester United which is making its 21st group stage appearance will be without Phil Jones and Eric Bailly who are serving a match ban.

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But Mourinho seems not missing the duo as he told Simon Hart, the UEFA reporter attached to the team  that Victor Lindelöf will start alongside Chris Smalling,

“Even if Jones and Bailly were not suspended, probably I would still play Lindelöf and Samlling.

“For me, they are the same level. I think it’s easier for [Lindelöf] to play Champions League – it is more comparable to the style of football in the Portuguese league. There is no need to adapt to the Champions League but he needs a little bit of time to adapt to the Premier League.

“He’s an intelligent kid, very bright, very calm; he knows that step by step he is going to be there.”

Added to that is the possibility of playing without Marouane Fellaini who reportedly picked a calf injury whole on international assignment for Belgium last week.

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“Fellaini didn’t train yesterday (Sunday) and let’s see if he can today (Monday)”, Mourinho told the UEFA reporter.

“It’s a very important day for me, much more important than you can imagine. I feel weaker without Fellaini in my squad. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the pitch or on the bench, if his condition improves, he will be selected because I need him”, remarked Mourinho.

In the other Group A match, Benfica is a consistent performer in the Europa League will host CSKA Moscow which finished last in its group in each of the last four seasons – including one that contained United in 2015. –

 

GROUP B (BAYERN MUNICH, PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN, ANDERLECHT, CELTIC)

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Neymar made it his big goal to win the Champions League with Paris Saint-Germain after securing his world-record transfer from Barcelona for 222 million euros ($262 million) in July.

Advancing to the knockout stage should be a formality for his new team, which also includes teenage striker Kylian Mbappe in a new-look and exciting forward line.

Neymar’s first European campaign with PSG will take him to five-time champion Bayern, whose coach Carlo Ancelotti used to manage the French club. Celtic is never an easy team to visit, but the Scottish champions are likely to be fighting it out with Anderlecht for third place.

 

GROUP C (CHELSEA, ATLETICO MADRID, ROMA, QARABAG)

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Qarabag is the first Azerbaijani team to reach this stage and its reward is one of the most competitive groups.

Atletico Madrid has reached the final twice in the past three years, losing both times to Real Madrid, while Chelsea – the 2012 European champion – is the current English champion and has recovered after an uncomfortable start to the Premier League.

Chelsea and Atletico could be in negotiations over the next few months regarding the sale of Diego Costa, the Chelsea striker who has been estranged in his native Brazil for much of the summer and wants to join former club Atletico.

 

GROUP D (JUVENTUS, BARCELONA, OLYMPIAKOS, SPORTING)

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It will be a major surprise if Juventus and Barcelona, European champions a combined seven times, fail to qualify from the group.

They met in the 2015 final, with Barca’s prolific front three of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez inspiring a 3-1 win in Berlin. Neymar, of course, is no longer around for Barca, with new signing Ousmane Dembele replacing him.

Juventus lost last season’s final to Real Madrid and hasn’t won the Champions League since 1996. Olympiakos and Sporting are regular qualifiers but rarely advance, with Sporting weakened by the recent sale of midfielder Adrien Silva to Leicester.

 

GROUP E (SPARTAK MOSCOW, SEVILLA, LIVERPOOL, MARIBOR)

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Five-time European champion Liverpool came through the playoffs and gets a chance to avenge its loss to Sevilla in the 2016 Europa League final, which denied the English team a place in last season’s Champions League.

Spartak, which won the Russian Premier League, is in the group stage for the first time since 2012-13, while Slovenian team Maribor is the big outsider in its third attempt to reach the knockout stage. This will likely be considered the weakest of the eight groups.

 

GROUP F (SHAKHTAR DONETSK, MANCHESTER CITY, NAPOLI, FEYENOORD)

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City avoided tougher options by being drawn into top-seeded Shakhtar’s group.

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The Ukrainian champion is always fighting against the disadvantage of not playing a real home game in three years due to the conflict involving pro-Russian separatists around its home city.

Still, Napoli was one of the more difficult opponents for City from the third-seeded teams and eased past Nice in the playoffs round. Feyenoord returns to the group stage after a 15-year absence and is likely to face a steep learning curve.

 

GROUP G (MONACO, PORTO, BESIKTAS, LEIPZIG)

Monaco, last season’s surprise semifinalist, is the top seed but has been hurt by the departure of key players like Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy this summer.

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The French team comes up against Porto in a rematch of the 2004 final won by the Portuguese team.

Leipzig didn’t even exist then – the club was created in 2009 – and is a newcomer at this level. But the Bundesliga runner-up was the team from the fourth seeds that most of the continent’s heavyweights wanted to avoid. Monaco won its group as a fourth-seeded team last season.

 

GROUP H (REAL MADRID, BORUSSIA DORTMUND, TOTTENHAM, APOEL)

Real Madrid has won the Champions League three times in the past four years, and is looking to become the first team since Bayern Munich (1974-76) to be European champion in three straight years.

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Madrid’s path to the knockout stage may have been smoothed by its fierce rival Barcelona, which weakened Borussia Dortmund by signing Ousmane Dembele.

Tottenham will be hoping for better results at its temporary home of Wembley Stadium, where the English team lost two of its three group games last season and hasn’t won either of its Premier League games there this season. APOEL famously reached the quarterfinals in 2012 against the odds.

 

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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UEFA Champions League

Italy and Germany to have five clubs in 2024-25 Champions League

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How CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup Draw will be conducted

Italy and Germany have earned an extra spot in the Champions League next season after their clubs performed well in European competitions this season, Europe’s soccer governing body UEFA said on Friday.

With the Champions League expanding to 36 teams next season, UEFA said two of the four additional places would be filled by European Performance Spots which go to associations “with the best collective performance by their clubs” in UEFA competitions.

After the semi-final legs of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League concluded this week, UEFA said Italy and Germany are guaranteed to finish in the top two of the 2023-24 association club coefficients.

As things stand, Borussia Dortmund are outside the top four in the Bundesliga but will qualify in fifth place.

Dortmund are also in the Champions League final where they will play Real Madrid and should they beat the Spanish giants, they would qualify as winners anyway.

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Their German rivals and Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen are in the Europa League final where they will face Italian side Atalanta, who currently hold on to fifth place in Serie A with a game in hand.

But AS Roma are also in contention, with both teams on 60 points while Lazio are four points behind.

Premier League clubs Manchester City and Arsenal exited the Champions League in the quarter-finals which hurt England’s chances of improving its club coefficient.

Aston Villa — who were knocked out of the Europa Conference League semi-finals on Thursday — can seal the fourth and final spot if they win their next game to deny fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur a place in the Champions League.

-Reuters

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UEFA Champions League

PSG can take positives despite missing out on Champions League again

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Champions League - Semi Final - Second Leg - Paris St Germain v Borussia Dortmund - Parc des Princes, Paris, France - May 7, 2024 Paris St Germain coach Luis Enrique and Kylian Mbappe look dejected after the match REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnie

Paris St Germain missed a golden opportunity to reach their second Champions League final, but it was not all doom and gloom at the French club after a season of transition with a new coach.

The Ligue 1 champions were knocked out in the semi-finals on Tuesday after a 1-0 defeat against Borussia Dortmund for a 2-0 aggregate loss, having hit the woodwork six times over the two legs and managed 31 attempts at the Parc des Princes.

“We were not inferior over the two legs, but football rewards those who score not those who hit the woodwork,” said PSG coach Luis Enrique.

“My goal was to be fighting for all the titles. Tonight I’m proud of my team, of all the players.”

PSG won the Ligue 1 title and have the French Cup final to come later this month.

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“We weren’t efficient, they were efficient, they scored two goals and won both matches. There’s a lot to take back from this competition,” captain Marquinhos told reporters.

“At the start of the season, nobody believed we’d get this far. We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, but we can’t throw everything away now just because we’ve been eliminated. We have to remember that this is a new project, with a new coach.

“There are positive things to take into the next season.”

PSG have now lost all six legs of their three two-legged Champions League semi-finals, after double defeats against AC Milan in 1995 and Manchester City in 2021.

The year they reached the final, in 2020, they beat RB Leipzig in a one-off semi-final after COVID-19 disrupted the season. They lost in the final against Bayern Munich.

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This season started with a new coach in Luis Enrique and without Lionel Messi and Neymar as club president Nasser al-Khelaifi put an emphasis on building a team over individual talents.

While not always brilliant, PSG have looked like an organised outfit and the coach said he was already working on building a team without Kylian Mbappe, who is widely expected to leave at the end of the season.

“The players and coach gave their all. Congratulations to Dortmund, we deserved better. It’s a tough game. I’m proud of my team, the youngest in Europe,” Al-Khelaifi said.

“We’ve reached the semi-finals three times in five years. That’s not our objective, it’s still the final. That’s soccer, you have to accept it and sometimes it’s not fair. We’ll accept it.”

-Reuters

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UEFA Champions League

Hummels on target as composed Dortmund knock PSG out to reach final

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Champions League - Semi Final - Second Leg - Paris St Germain v Borussia Dortmund - Parc des Princes, Paris, France - May 7, 2024 Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels scores their first goal REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Borussia Dortmund showed great composure to reach their third Champions League final after Mats Hummels’ second-half goal earned the visitors a 1-0 victory against misfiring Paris St Germain for a deserved 2-0 aggregate win on Tuesday.

Hummels headed home from a corner five minutes into the second half to send the Germans, who won the title in 1997, into their first final in Europe’s top club competition since 2013.

They will meet either 14-times champions Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, who clash at the Bernabeu on Wednesday after a 2-2 draw in the first leg, in the June 1 showdown at Wembley.

Luis Enrique’s PSG hit the woodwork four times but failed to find the net as Kylian Mbappe, widely expected to leave at the end of the season, was a shadow of his usual brilliant self.

“We lacked efficiency,” PSG captain Marquinhos said.

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“There are still positives to take from this competition. At the beginning nobody thought we would go that far. We’re out in the semi-finals but with a new coach and a new project.”

Dortmund coach Edin Terzic said his team deserved their place in the final.

“I am very proud, very happy. We beat PSG and we kept a clean sheet. We had a bit of luck but we deserve to go to the final,” he said.

AGGRESSIVE START

PSG, who entered the tie as favourites to reach their second final after finishing runners-up in 2020, made an aggressive start and Mbappe had their first chance in the seventh minute with a half-volley as the hosts piled on the pressure.

With Mbappe on the left flank and Goncalo Ramos as a lone striker, the France forward had some space out wide and the possibility to cut in and threaten the Dortmund goal.

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The visitors, however, were composed and held firm. Their confidence grew and they had their first opportunity through Julian Ryerson, whose shot hit the side netting.

Dortmund had a better chance in the 35th when, after a sharp counter attack following a woeful Mbappe miss, Gianluigi Donnarumma pulled off a brilliant save to deny Karim Adeyemi.

PSG were lucky the score on the night was level at halftime.

Luis Enrique’s side stepped up a gear after the break with Warren Zaire Emery’s shot hitting the outside of the post after Mbappe’s attempt was deflected into his path by Ramos.

But Dortmund were more clinical as Hummels headed home from Julian Brandt’s corner five minutes after the interval to double the German side’s advantage over the two legs.

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Ramos’s shot on the turn then went just over and Nuno Mendes’s 25-metre missile hit the post as PSG reacted swiftly.

Another Mbappe attempt was deflected onto the bar before Vitinha’s powerful shot also hit the woodwork.

PSG’s Ousmane Dembele was a constant threat after the hour mark but, just like the rest of the team, the France forward came more into the game far too late against a side who never lost their composure and fully deserve their place in the final.

-Reuters

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