Champions League Group Stage Draw: Parity makes ‘Group of Death’ a tough label


Parity prevailed in today’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage draw where 32 teams were slotted into eight of the most evenly matched groups in tournament’s history.

The balance of the draw makes identifying a ‘Group of Death’ difficult but if it must be done, then Arsenal finds itself on the short end of the stick in Group F. The North London side, that qualified for the group stage by eliminating Fenerbahce 5-0 on aggregate in the play-offs, have been pitted against last year’s finalist, Borussia Dortmund, big spending Italian side Napoli and French outfit Olympique Marseille.

The matches are set to kick-off on September 17th. Below is a complete breakdown of all the groups.

source: Getty ImagesGroup A: Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad

David Moyes’ hopes at winning a Champions League title took a huge boost when his side enjoyed a favorable Champions League draw when it was paired with Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, German side Bayer Leverkusen, La Liga outfit Real Sociedad. 

On paper, United should have little difficulty waltzing through this group, as their talent and experience is far superior to their competitors. On the pitch, however, they’ll do well to take nothing for granted.

Shakhtar are European veterans, having won the UEFA Cup in 2009 and produced some fine Champions League performances of late, including last year where they made it to the Round of 16 before falling to finalists Dortmund 5-2 on aggregate.

After losing starters Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Fernandinho and Ravzan Rat the Ukranian squad is in a rebuilding year and will face stiff competition for the second spot in the group with Leverkusen and Sociedad, who are both currently playing high quality football. The German side will look to goal-scorer Stefan Kießling to provide the edge while Mexican forward Carlos Vela will be primed to guide his side to the Round of 16.

Group B: Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray, Copenhagen source: Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid face one of the most difficult groups in the Champions League as they match up with Italian champions Juventus, Turkish Super League champions Galatasaray and Danish Superliga champions FC Copenhagen.

Madrid and Juventus will be the heavy favorites to come out of this group but traveling to Turkey is never an easy feat, especially when Didier Drogba is leading the line. Copenhagen will be the long shot to advance but the Danish side has plenty of European experience of late.

source:  Group C: Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympiacos, Anderlecht

Big money spenders Paris Saint-Germain have what is perhaps the easiest route through to the Round of 16.

Traveling to Portugal to face Europa League finalists Benfica and to Greece to play Super League winners Olympiacos will not be easy but the quality of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani should be more than enough to overcome any hostile environments Le Parisiens may face.

Sacha Kljestan’s club Anderlecht, who won the 2012-13 Belgian Pro League, enter the tournament with a solid backbone of European experience but advancing through this group looks to be an uphill battle.

Group D: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City,  Viktoria Plzen source:

Champions League title holders Bayern Munich have relatively clear-cut route through Group D as they face Manchester City, Russian champions CSKA Moscow and Czech champions Viktoria Plzen.

Manchester City will be relieved at having escaped the ‘Group of Death’ for the first time in three years and will look to the tactics of Manuel Pellegrini to guide them Champions League success as he did at Villareal and Malaga.

source:  Group E: Chelsea, Schalke 04, Basel, Steaua Bucharest 

2012 Champions League winners Chelsea will be licking their chops as they face German side Schalke 04, Swiss club Basel and Romanian outfit Steaua Bucharest.

Schalke have the talent to find their way out of Group E but doubts have been raised after the German side narrowly snuck into the group stage after defeating Panathinaikos 4-3 win in Athens.

Swiss champions Basel can’t be counted out after Mohamed Salah and Fabian Frei helped the RotBlau to some impressive performances in last year’s Europa League. Basel stands alongside Steaua Bucharest as long-shots to make it through the group and return to the stage for the first time since 2008-09, where they finished in last place.

Group F: Arsenal, Olympique Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli source:

If this group looks familiar that’s because three of the four clubs – Arsenal, Marseille and Dortmund – all met in Group F back in the 2011-12 Champions League.

Borussia Dortmund will enter the stage as slight favorites after progressing to last year’s final, where they lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich. BVB lost playmaker Mario Gotze to Munich this summer but managed to hang on to striker Robert Lewandowski and replenish the ranks with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, to name a few.

Dortmund is anything but safe, however, with Arsenal and Napoli in the group. Arsenal’s Champions League resume speaks for itself while Napoli have lost Serie A golden boot winner Edinson Cavani but have added quality signings that include Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol and Pepe Reina.

Marseille will struggle to do damage in the group after qualifying for the UCL after finishing as runners-up in last season’s Ligue 1.

source:  Group G: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Austria Wien

Group G poses yet another incredibly competitive group, with Portuguese champions Porto the slight favorites to advance.

It will be anything but easy, however, as Zenit Saint Petersburg will look to make up for last year’s showing where they finished third and were banished to the Europa League. Atletico Madrid will also be fancying their chances after finishing third in last year’s La Liga and starting this year’s campaign in an equally bright light with two straight victories.

Austria Wien will be up against it but the opponents would do well to avoid underestimating the side that knocked off Dinamo Zagreb 4-3 in aggregate in qualifying.

Group H: Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax, Celtic source:

If Group F is worthy of the moniker ‘Group of Death’, Group H is a close second.

The group is highlighted by Lionel Messi’s Barcelona, who will look to re-establish their European dominance under UEFA Champions League neophyte Gerardo Martino. It will be up to the Argentinian boss to guide the Blaugrana past Celtic, who famously defeated Barca 2-1 in the second leg of the two sides’ meeting in last year’s group stage.

Barcelona will also face off with AC Milan in a repeat of last year’s Round of 16 tilt where the Spanish giants roared back from a 2-0 first leg loss to score four goals in the second leg and win 4-2 on aggregate. Completing the group is Dutch powerhouse Ajax, who impressed in last year’s tournament when they finished 3rd in a group with Dortmund, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

The Group Stage matches will take place over the course of six matchdays beginning September 17th and concluding on December 11th. The top two teams from each Group will move on to the Round of 16, while the third place side will drop into the Europa League and the fourth placed club will be eliminated from European competition.

The Round of 16 will be played over two legs in February and March 2014, with the winners continuing on to a two-legged Quarterfinal in early April. The winners will march on to the Semifinals, which will be played in late April, before the winners head to the final at the Estadio de Luz in Lisbon, Portugal on May 24th, 2014.

LIVE – Europa League: Tottenham, Liverpool look to clinch last 32 spot

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Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool can clinch a spot in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, with the Premier League dup doing their best to boost England’s UEFA coefficient.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Tottenham are in Azerbaijan as they sit top of Group J and a win against Qarabag (kick off, 1 p.m. ET) would secure qualification to the Europa League knockout stages for the fourth-straight season. Three points could also seal top spot if Monaco lose to Anderlecht, Mauricio Pochettino is set to rotate his squad with teenage American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers traveling with the first team.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp (fresh from practicing his scouse accent) will send his team out against Bordeaux hoping to clinch a spot in the last 32. With a win Liverpool would qualify and set up a winner-takes-top-spot clash with FC Sion in Switzerland on Dec. 10.

Other big games taking place in the penultimate round of Europa League group games include Celtic hosting Ajax knowing only a win will keep alive their hopes of making the knockout stage, Slovan Liberec and Marseille clash with serious Group F implications and plenty of groups hang in the balance with all four teams still capable of qualifying.

Click on the link above to keep up to date with all the scores from around the Europa League on Thursday.

10 Premier League players on FIFPro World XI shortlist

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10 Premier League stars have been selected among the best 55 players in the world.

[ VIDEO: Foxes to stay top? United for title?

Manchester City lead the way in PL nominations with four. City’s David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany were shortlisted, while Chelsea has three players shortlisted with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Eden Hazard making it. Manchester United’s David De Gea and Wayne Rooney were also nominated and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez completes the 10 PL players included in the list.

Real Madrid have the most nominations with 12 players, while Bayern Munich is next with 11 and Barcelona have nine players selected. Major League Soccer has one rep with New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo included.

The shortlist was revealed after almost 25,000 professional players across the world voted. The final XI for 2015 will be announced at the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Jan. 11, 2016.

Via FIFPro, below is a full list of the 55 players on the shortlist.


Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Juventus)
Iker Casillas (Spain, FC Porto)
David De Gea (Spain, Manchester United)
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica, Real Madrid CF)
Manuel Neuer (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)


David Alaba (Austria, FC Bayern Munich)
Jordi Alba (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Daniel Alves (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Jerome Boateng (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Daniel Carvajal (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy, Juventus)
David Luiz (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
Diego Godin (Uruguay, Atlético Madrid)
Mats Hummels (Germany, Borussia Dortmund)
Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia, Chelsea)
Vincent Kompany (Belgium, Manchester City)
Philipp Lahm (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Marcelo (Brazil, Real Madrid CF)
Javier Mascherano (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Pepe (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Gerard Pique (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Sergio Ramos (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Thiago Silva (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
John Terry (England, Chelsea)
Raphael Varane (France, Real Madrid CF)


Thiago Alcantara (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Xabi Alonso (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Sergio Busquets (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Eden Hazard (Belgium, Chelsea FC)
Andres Iniesta (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Toni Kroos (Germany, Real Madrid CF)
Luka Modric (Croatia, Real Madrid CF)
Andrea Pirlo (Italy, New York City FC)
Paul Pogba (France, Juventus)
Ivan Rakitic (Croatia, FC Barcelona)
James Rodriguez (Colombia, Real Madrid CF)
David Silva (Spain, Manchester City)
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast, Manchester City FC)
Marco Verratti (Italy, Paris Saint-Germain)
Arturo Vidal (Chile, FC Bayern Munich)


Sergio Aguero (Argentina, Manchester City FC)
Gareth Bale (Wales, Real Madrid CF)
Karim Benzema (France, Real Madrid CF)
Douglas Costa (Brazil, FC Bayern Munich)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain FC)
Robert Lewandowski (Poland, FC Bayern Munich)
Lionel Messi (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Thomas Muller (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Neymar Jr. (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Arjen Robben (The Netherlands, FC Bayern Munich)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester United FC)
Alexis Sanchez (Chile, Arsenal)
Luis Suarez (Uruguay, FC Barcelona)
Carlos Tevez (Argentina, Boca Juniors)

Thanksgiving transfer rumors: Bender, Pato to Arsenal; Slimani to Palace

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Happy Thanksgiving!

[ VIDEO: Foxes to stay top? United for title? ]

It’s time for a healthy dose of transfer rumors before you fill up on Turkey and pumpkin pie, so here is your fix of gossip.

Lars Bender, 26, is reportedly attracting Arsenal’s interest as the Bayer Leverkusen holding midfielder could move to the Emirates Stadium in January. Italian outlet CalcioMercato claim that Arsene Wenger is tracking Leverkusen’s captain as he badly needs reinforcements in midfield after Francis Coquelin went down injured against West Brom last weekend and is set to miss at least three months through injury. Bender, a German international, would certainly fit Wenger’s requirements as “top, top quality” but the transfer price may put Arsenal off as he would cost just under $30 million.

Another player the Gunners are said to be in for is ex AC Milan winger Alexandre Pato. Yeah, remember him? Pato, 26, is currently playing for Corinthians back in his homeland of Brazil but Wenger has met with former Arsenal midfielder, and current Corinthians director of football, Edu, to talk about signing the man who once carried the hopes of AC. Edu confirmed the talks and the Brazilian side are reportedly eager to cash in Pato in January and the player is keen for a move back to Europe. Do the Gunners need more firepower?

Algerian striker Islam Slimani, 27, has been linked with a $20 million move to Crystal Palace. Alan Pardew‘s side have made their best-ever start to a Premier League season this year but it could’ve been even better as scoring goals has been a real issue for the Eagles with midfielder Yohan Cabaye their top scorer with four goals. With Connor Wickham, Marouane Chamakh and Dwight Gayle all injured in recent weeks, the Daily Mirror says Pardew is looking to Sporting Lisbon’s Slimani to arrive in January and deliver the goals which could see them push for Europa League qualification. There’s no doubt Palace need reinforcement up top but is Slimani the man? With new investment from Americans David Blizter and Josh Harris expected by the festive season, Palace could have plenty of cash to spend in the January window.

Finally, Newcastle United have been linked with moves for both Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend by the Daily Mail. Steve McClaren‘s team are hovering just above the relegation zone and creating chances has been a big issue for the Magpies. It’s hard to see Shelvey, who has become a key figure for the Swans, leaving South Wales for a relegation scrap, but Townsend leaving Tottenham is much more likely to happen after he was involved in a bust-up with a fitness coach earlier this month and was suspended from training by Mauricio Pochettino. Townsend, 24, would likely be a regular for Newcastle and ahead of EURO 2016 he could get a good run of games to try and break back into the England squad.

Qatar launches probe after rains exposed poor construction

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Qatar has launched an investigation after heavy rains exposed poor construction in a country set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a deluge that saw water cascade through the roof of its $15 billion main airport.

[ MORE: 3 things learned – United v PSV ]

The investigation already is examining the work of five unnamed companies and others could be targeted as well in the probe launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, who also serves as interior minister, the country’s state-run Qatar News Agency said.

“Parties responsible for dereliction or negligence, whether governmental or private, will be held accountable,” the agency said, citing a statement late Wednesday from Qatar’s Government Communication Office.

Reached for comment, officials at Doha’s Hamad International Airport issued a statement simply saying: “There was no impact to operations yesterday.” It referred other questions to the government.

The day before, at least 79.5 millimeters (3.13 inches) of rain fell at the airport, according to the Qatar Meteorology Department. Typically, the hot, desert country sees around 50 millimeters (1.97 inches) of rain in a year.

The sudden rainfall saw water pour out of the airport’s ceiling in several places, captured in online videos.

Qatar opened Hamad International Airport in April 2014, part of its effort to enter the competitive Gulf airline market. The 600,000 square meter (6.5 million square feet) passenger terminal complex was scheduled to be completed in 2009.

The airport is part of a multibillion-dollar building boom in Doha ahead of the 2022 World Cup. However, the push has seen Qatar criticized for the way it treats its large migrant worker population. There also have been accusations of shoddy construction.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap .