MONACO - Holders Barcelona will begin
their defence of the Champions League with a home match against
AC Milan after the two old rivals were drawn in the same group
Last season's runners-up Manchester United will also face
familiar foes in the shape of Benfica, while Barca's domestic
rivals Real Madrid are in a group with fellow former champions
NEWS: Dates for all group stage fixtures
Barca and Milan, who have been European champions 11 times
between them and met in the 1994 final with the Italians winning
4-0, will renew their rivalry at the Nou Camp on September 13.
Both should qualify from a Group H which also includes
outsiders BATE Borisov of Belarus and Czech champions Viktoria
"We know Milan so well and have played so many times and the
group is a tough one," former Barca goalkeeper and now technical
director Andoni Zubizarreta told reporters.
"Zlatan Ibrahimovic will enjoy coming back to the Nou Camp
with Milan to show us what we are missing - but we cannot
under-estimate the other two sides either. We don't know a lot
about them and that is always a dangerous thing."
Manchester United, beaten by Barca in May's final, were
first of the 32 teams out of the hat and drawn with Benfica, the
team they beat in the final to win their first European Cup in
1968, Basel and Romanian debutants Otelul Galati.
Benfica's name was drawn out by United great Bobby Charlton,
who scored against Benfica in the 1968 final.
"We have a long friendship with Benfica and Eusebio and Sir
Bobby are great friends," United Chief Executive David Gill
"We have played Benfica in the Champions League recently and
lost to them but it is always special when they come to Old
Gill's club travel to the Stadium of Light in Lisbon for the
opening match on Sept. 14 with the return in Manchester on November
Manchester City, the world's richest club thanks to owner
Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi and playing in the Champions League
for the first time, were drawn with four-times European Cup
winners Bayern Munich, Villarreal and Napoli.
New boy Sergio Aguero, City's record 38 million pounds
signing, faces a trip to Napoli, the former
club of father-in-law Diego Maradona.
"This is the toughest group of the whole draw," Bayern coach
Jupp Heynckes told his club's website.
"I know Villarreal and Napoli and they are absolute top teams.
"As for Manchester City... they have boosted their squad
and are desperate for European success. We will be challenged in
every single game and have to be fully focused."
City official Brian Marwood said: "Any two of the four can
go through and it's going to be tough. But our coach [Roberto
Mancini] will know all about Napoli from his days in Italy."
The first game back for City in Europe's elite competition
since their only previous appearance in 1968/69 will be at home
to Napoli on September 14.
Villarreal's Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi, who knows
Manchester well from his days at Old Trafford, said on Twitter:
"What a group! It's Champions League, no Mickey Mouse tournament - excited."
Real Madrid, European champions a record nine times, face
perennial opponents Olympique Lyon along with Ajax Amsterdam and
Dinamo Zagreb, back in the competition after a 12-year absence.
Trabzonspor, brought in on Thursday after the Turkish FA
withdrew Fenerbahce because of match-fixing allegations, will
play in the same group as 2010 champions Inter Milan, CSKA
Moscow and Lille.
Among the top-seeded teams Chelsea face Bayer Leverkusen,
Valencia and Genk.
The London club will welcome back former midfielder Michael
Ballack when Leverkusen visit Stamford Bridge in their opener on
September 13, while new Chelsea signing Juan Mata will come face to
face with his old club Valencia later that month.
Belgian club Genk are back in the competition for the first
time in almost a decade.
"It's fantastic for us to be back in the Champions League
and we are going to enjoy it no matter what happens," Genk
director Dirk Degraen told Reuters.
"It is not just about the money - it is simply the best
competition there is."
The group stage starts on September 13-14, with the final set
for Munich on May 19.
2011/12 Champions League group stage draw
made on Thursday.
Bayern Munich (Germany)
Manchester City (England)
Inter Milan (Italy)
CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Manchester United (England)
Otelul Galati (Romania)
Real Madrid (Spain)
Olympique Lyon (France)
Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Racing Genk (Belgium)
Olympique Marseille (France)
Olympiakos Piraeus (Greece)
Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
Zenit St Petersburg (Russia)
APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus)
AC Milan (Italy)
BATE Borisov (Belarus)
Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)
Round one: September 13/14
Round two: September 27/28
Round three: October 18/19
Round four: November 1/2
Round five: November 22/23
Round six: December 6/7
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