Liverpool begin CL campaign buoyed by cash boost
LIVERPOOL, England (AFP) - Liverpool, buoyed by a massive new sponsorship deal, kick-start their quest for Champions League glory here on Wednesday against European football novices Debrecen of Hungary. After thrashing visitors Burnley 4-0 in the English Premier League on Saturday, Liverpool could face a tougher challenge against Debrecen, current Hungarian champions and a side debuting in the group stages of Europe's elite club competition. Also contesting Group E are French giants Lyon and Italian side Fiorentina. Liverpool, whose US owners are struggling financially due to the economic crisis, won a huge boost ahead of Wednesday's game at Anfield after signing a lucrative sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered bank. Under a deal announced on Monday and thought to be worth 80 million pounds (91 million euros, 133 million dollars), Standard Chartered will become the Reds' new sponsor for four years from July 2010. "This is a huge step forward for the club financially," said Christian Purslow, managing director of Liverpool, which has been forced to put on hold plans for a new 60,000-seat stadium. The Merseysiders recently also had to sell key midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, raising around 30 million pounds. Liverpool have endured a mixed start to the new Premier League season, winning three and losing two of their five fixtures so far. Meanwhile, Debrecen's last visit to England saw them lose 3-0 to Manchester United in a 2005 Champions League qualifying tie. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is hopeful that Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano will be fit to play after missing out against Burnley. Mascherano was replaced on Saturday by Yossi Benayoun, who impressed Benitez by scoring a hat-trick. "We know that Yossi is a quality player," Benitez said of the diminutive Israeli international. "We have seen how good he is off the bench and we were talking about whether he could do the same thing from the start of the match. "He was fantastic. He is someone who has experience. He knows that the best way to fight for a place in the team is by doing something on the pitch." Mascherano suffered a pelvic injury while playing for Argentina in their 1-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Paraguay last week. Liverpool have won Europe's premier club tournament on five occasions. Their most recent title came in 2005, when they defeated AC Milan on penalties after a thrilling final in Istanbul had ended 3-3 after extra time, with the Reds coming back from 3-0 down at half-time. AC Milan had revenge in the final two years later, defeating the Reds 2-1 in Athens.
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