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Champions Cup

Champions League

Giants and giant killers ready to do battle for Europe’s top club crown.

By Chipp Reid
Special To SoccerTimes

(Monday, August 28, 2000) -- Most of the minnows have been culled from the Champions League pool, and now the best 32 teams in Europe are ready to battle for the crown held by Real Madrid.

There were few surprises at the group draw Friday in Geneva, but the surprises that came were huge. English club Leeds United will once more travel to Turkey where last year two of its fans were killed in violence preceding Leeds’ UEFA Cup match with Galatasaray. Defending champion Real Madrid was drawn in a relatively easy group, which includes Iberian rival Sporting Lisbon of Portugal.

The 32 teams were put in eight four-team groups, labeled A to H. Matches begin September 13 and end Novem-ber 8. The top two teams from each group advance to the second round. The biggest surprise, however, came from the team that did not make group stage: Internazionale of Milan. Inter spent heavily in the off season and was drawn in the third qualifying round against Sweden’s Helsingborg. The Swedish team had been in a state of disarray all year after losing its popular head coach and six of starters.

But the Swedish David certainly had the right rock to knock off the Italian Goliath as Helsingborg goalkeeper Sven Andersson spun two straight shutouts to lead Helsingborg into the group stage for the first time in its history. Andersson starred in both matches. He made several crucial saves in the waning minutes of Helsingborg’s surprising 1-0 home win August 10. Then, the Helsingborg keeper stopped Inter’s Uruguayan striker Alvaro Recoba’s penalty-kick try in the 90th minute of the return leg at San Siro Stadium in Milan on Wednesday.

The upset was the biggest to emerge from the qualifying stage, but not the only one. Czech champ Slava Prahia was dumped out of the Champions League by Ukrainian minnow Shakhtar Donetsk, while UEFA Cup holder Galatasaray had a hard time getting past FC St. Gallen of Switzerland.

The biggest shock to emerge form the draw was the pairing of Leeds with Turkish side Besiktas in Group H. That sets up a dramatic return to Turkey for the Yorkshire club, which last year was hit with tragedy when two Leeds fans were killed by Turkish fans before Leeds’ match with Galatasaray in the semifinals of the UEFA Cup in Istanbul.

Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale issued a statement saying he did not expect a repeat of that violence. "We will consult with everyone concerned regarding the matches versus Besiktas; the police, the Turkish club, all the relevant authorities, before the matches are played," he said. "Whatever happens, I am certain there will be no repeat of the tragedy of last time. It is an opportunity for everyone to prove that we can meet in a friendly, sporting rivalry and that we can rise above what happened last time."

The group his side was put in could also explain Ridsdale’s pessimism. Leeds is in this year’s "Group of Death." Along with Besiktas and Leeds, the group includes Spanish giant Barcelona and Italian powerhouse AC Milan. Ridsdale’s caution was in sharp contrast to English rival Sir Alex Ferguson, head coach of Manchester United. The United boss was absolutely buoyant following the draw, which put his club in Group G along with Belgium’s Ander-lecht, PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands and Ukraine’s Dynamo Kiev.

"I am delighted with the draw, and especially as we will face teams with a long footballing tradition," Ferguson said. "In a way, we know we have to expect although the trip to Kiev will be a long journey."

The most interesting group could be Group F, which has Helsingborg, Rosenborg of Norway, Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain. The pairing of the long-time Scandinavian rivals along with the match up between the German and French sides should create more than enough football intrigue.

"We know all the teams in the group quite well," said Helsingborg president Lars Olsson. "But I suppose for Swedes, Bayern Munich are the most well-known. In a way we are saddened that the two Scandinavian teams are paired together in the same group. Then again, it is interesting that we face Rosenborg, with whom we already have a lot of contact on administrative levels. This will be a very interesting derby to see if Norway or Sweden wins."

Bayern head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld was just as happy. "We have been drawn into an attractive group," he said. "Paris St. Germain are a classy team, Rosenborg a well-known quantity and Helsingborg the big surprise of the qualifying tournament."

Uli Hoeness, Bayern’s manager, was a little more circumspect. "I say it’s a difficult group," he said. "PSG is a very strong side, and against Rosenborg we encountered huge problems during last season. Helsingborg have just knocked out Internazionale. We have to be careful; the opponents don’t sound too big, but they’re all good teams."

And that seems to be the watchword for every team in the Champions League: caution. "The group we have been drawn might seem easy at first glance," said Bayern general manager Karl Hopfner. "But we don’t thin k it will be as easy. We will now more after having played these six matches."

The eight groups for the Champions League are:

Group A -Real Madrid (Spain, Cup holder), Spartak Moscow (Russia), Beyer Leverkusen (Germany), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal).

Group B - Lazio (Italy), AC Sparta (Czech Republic), Arsenal (England), Shaktar Donetsk (Ukraine).

Group C - SC Heerenveen (Netherlands), Valencia (Spain), Olympiakos (Greece), Olympique Lyon (France).

Group D - Sturm Graz (Austria), Galatasaray (Turkey), AS Monaco (France), Glasgow Rangers (Scotland).

Group E - Deportivo Coruna (Spain), Hamburg SV (Germany), Juventus (Italy), Panathinaikos (Greece).

Group F - Bayern Munich (Germany), Rosenborg (Norway), Paris St. Germain (France), Helsingborg (Sweden).

Group G - Anderlecht (Belgium), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands), Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine), Manchester United (England).

Group H - Besiktas (Turkey), Barcelona (Spain), Leeds United (England), AC Milan (Italy).

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