Barca clash with Inter, United tackle Wolfsburg in Champions League
MONACO (AFP) - European champions Barcelona drew Inter Milan, moneybags Real Madrid pulled AC Milan while Manchester United will take on German surprise package Wolfsburg after the Champions League group stage draw was made here on Thursday. This season sees nine former champions go into action in the 32-team format split into eight groups of four while the quartets of teams from England and Spain will battle for an historic 13th triumph, both countries having polished off a round dozen to date. Group A pits four-time champions Bayern Munich against two-time holders Juventus, French champions Bordeaux and Maccabi Haifa of Israel. In Group B, Manchester United, European champions in 1968, 1999 and 2007 and beaten finalists last year, will go up against German champions Wolfsburg, Turkey's Besiktas and CSKA Moscow. "These are difficult ties, especially the trips to Russia and Turkey," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "CSKA have developed strongly in the last few years and games in Turkey are always difficult." Former United star Cristiano Ronaldo's nine-times winners, and summer megaspenders, Real Madrid will have to joust with seven-time champions AC Milan in Group C, meaning an early return to San Siro for Brazilian Kaka. Marseille, the only French side ever to lift the trophy, and outsiders FC Zurich of Switzerland complete the group. Chelsea, the 2008 finalists and bidding for a first crown under former AC Milan handler Carlo Ancelotti are seeded in Group D where they meet two-time champions Porto, Atletico Madrid and Cypriots APOEL Nicosia. "We are always looking to go one step further in Europe," said Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon. "There is not too much travel and we managed to avoid one of the bigger teams. We've played Porto twice in Europe and we know them better than most." Liverpool, who humiliated Real last season, will play in Group E along with French side Lyon, who have never been past the quarters, Fiorentina of Italy and Debrecen of Hungary. "We tend to focus on travel commitments and we've got a short trip to France, a relatively short trip to Italy and a slightly longer one to Hungary," said Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow. Holders Barcelona will play in Group F along with Italian champions Inter, who won the last of their two European crowns in 1965 and are coached by former Barca assistant and ex-Chelsea handler Jose Mourinho. Those encounters also mean a swift return to the Nou Camp for Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o, who twice lifted the Cup with the Catalan club. Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who went the other way, will likewise get to renew old acquaintances back at the San Siro. Barcelona's vice-chairman Rafael Yuste told Radio Marca he looked forward to seeing Eto'o again. "Eto'o is a great player, always motivated no matter who he is up against." But he added: "We are the team to beat, the holders," and vowed Barca would go all out to become the first team to retain the Champions League. Dynamo Kiev and Russian champions Kazan complete the group. Seville of Spain will compete in Group G alongside Glasgow Rangers, Germany's VfB Stuttgart, and Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni. Jose Castro, vice president of Sevilla, was pleased with the outcome. "We are happy because there are much more difficult groups. Of course, all the teams will be difficilt and we will have trouble getting through. But we are satisfied with the draw," he said. Arsenal were drawn in Group H alongside AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands, Greek side Olympiakos and Belgium's Standard Liege, whom the Gunners thrashed 7-0 away 16 years ago in the old Cup Winners Cup. Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis noted his side's rivals are all their country's respective champions. "They are three good leagues and there is a reason why they are in the competition. People might see it as a free pass for us but we don't see it that way at all. It will be very tough. "It is good to have relatively short travel times, that's something that Arsene (Wenger) thinks about a lot." Bayern team manager Uli Hoeness said of facing Juventus that the Italian presence in particular made it "a very difficult group and there is no team we can afford to underestimate." And skipper Mark van Bommel said: "Everyone can qualify from this group, it is really not an easy pool."
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