With one qualifying match still yet to be played (AEK Athens vs. Sevilla – postponed until Friday due to the passing of Antonio Puerta), presenting a potential blush should the higher seeded Spainards not prevail, UEFA went ahead and held the draw for the 07/08 Champions League group stage.
While this would have been the perfect opportunity for Michel Platini to lay waste to the proceedings and declare the CL dead from this point on (“…more dead to me than your dead mother…“), yet he apparently didn’t have the gravitas to pull the trigger. Instead, it was the usual horse-and-pony show, including slick video packages, boring speeches from dignitaries interwoven with some shiny awards. Eventually, it was Business Time and somebody finally got their hands on the balls. (huh-huh)
Liverpool had been seeded in the first pot along with all fellow Premier League rivals (Arsenal, Man United, Chelsea), and the other usual suspects; Milan, Barca, Inter and Real Madrid. When the dust finally settled, Liverpool found themselves drawn into Group A with Porto, Marseille and Besiktas. It’s a challenging group which certainly won’t be any cakewalk.
Porto: The Portugese champions made it to the knock-out stages of the Champions League last term. Remember, they won the CL in 2004 under Jose Mourinho.
Marseille: Also former CL champions (1993), the French runners-up feature former Reds Djibril Cisse and Bolo Zenden. While the trophy case has sat untouched for some time, I’OM did reach the French Cup final last season.
Besiktas: The Turkish champions that hail from Istanbul. Unfortunately, this visit to Turkey won’t find the Reds in nearly as friendly an environment as in 2005.
Overall, it’s a pretty even draw, but Inter and Arsenal have the two easiest groups. The edge may go to Arsenal, simply because Inter have to travel to Moscow. The Gunners do have two Eastern European trips though. Barca have arguably the toughest group with the both French and German champions (and Rangers).
The draw as a whole:
Group A: Liverpool, Porto, Marseille, Besiktas
Group B: Chelsea, Valencia, Schalke, Rosenborg
Group C: Real Madrid, Werder Bremen, Lazio, Olympiacos
Group D: Milan, Benfica, Celtic, Shakhtar
Group E: Barcelona, Lyon, Stuttgart, Rangers
Group F: Manchester United, Roma, Sporting, Dynamo Kyiv
Group G: Inter, PSV, CSKA Moskva, Fenerbaçhe
Group H: Arsenal, Sevilla/AEK Athens, FC Steaua, Slavia
As mentioned earlier, the draw was combined with UEFA’s awards, with the winners selected by the managers of whose clubs reached the knock-out stages. Those results are as follows:
UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year: Pepe Reina was nominated, but the phallic/flower-like trophy went to Petr Cech (who was not wearing his epilepsy helmet with his suit).
UEFA Club Defender of the Year: Carra misses out as Maldini, dressed in assassin’s all-black (actually, all the Milan players were), was awarded the honor.
UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year: Apparently Clarence Seedorf rode the coattails of Milan’s CL victory, taking the gong over Stevie G. It’s just a meaningless award, but who actually rates Seedorf over Gerrard? Yeah, I thought so.
UEFA Club Forward of the Year: No Liverpool nominees. Kaká deservingly won and Milan swept the outfield player awards.
UEFA Club Footballer of the Year: Selected from the first four winners, the winner was a gimme — Kaká.