Teams: dinamo kyiv,benfica,and russian sport
One of the joys of the UEFA Champions League in recent years has been the proof that clever coaching, raw quality and football intelligence is every bit as important as big budgets and grand reputations when it comes to reaching the latter stages of Europe's premier club competition.
The fact that between 2003 and 2008, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, FC Porto, AS Monaco FC, Villarreal CF and Arsenal FC have all either reached a semi-final, final or won the competition indicates that the UEFA Champions League is not a private fiefdom of the European brand-name clubs who have been multiple winners over the last half-century. So the debut of FC Zenit St. Petersburg, holders of the UEFA Cup, is to be watched with interest by observers and with care by Group H rivals Real Madrid CF, FC BATE Borisov and Matchday 1 opponents Juventus.
Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, now also in possession of a UEFA Super Cup winners' medal, knows better than to boast of his team's dark-horse potential – but he acknowledges that it exists. "I think what we showed last season, coming so far and even winning the UEFA Cup, was an incredible achievement but I think we still must be considered as an outsider for the tournament," the Dutchman said. "Even in our group, Real Madrid and Juventus will be seen as the teams to beat while we and BATE will be viewed by everyone as fighting for third or fourth place.
"Our group is tough but, in principle, this is the Champions League and if you want to do well you have to expect to face and beat teams like Manchester United [FC] and Juventus," he added. "So for me it's not a problem, it's a challenge. Regarding Juventus, we've needed to update our information because they've not been in Europe for a couple of seasons. The newer players are the ones our scouts have been analysing because Pavel Nedvěd, Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezeguet are well known to us. If they have their day, which we mustn't allow, then Juventus can beat anyone. But I have faith that Zenit can damage some teams."
One guaranteed joy, amidst the arrival of Pavel Pogrebnyak, Konstantin Zyryanov, Vyacheslav Malafeev and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk among Europe's élite, will be Andrei Arshavin's return to prominence after dazzling with Russia at UEFA EURO 2008™ this summer. Advocaat is delighted that the little playmaker has been retained by Zenit. "Andrei is not only a very exciting but a very opportunistic player, capable of doing what nobody expects," his coach said. "Occasionally he does things which, defensively, are not great for your team but this is a guy who can score a goal out of nothing. Not many footballers have that quality and it will be important to us in this competition."
Zenit enters in two difficult weeks,Juventus,Cska,Lokomotiv and Real Madrid.
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