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Tuesday, 02 March 2021

Champions League draw smiles on Barca, Man Utd

AFP , Thursday 27 Aug 2015
FC Barcelona's Luis Suarez of Uruguay, center, celebrates his goal with his fellow teammate Sergi Carnicer, and Lionel Messi of Argentinaafter scoring against Athletic Bilbao soccer team during their Spanish La Liga soccer match, at San Mames stadium in Bilbao, northern Spain, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015 (AP)
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Reigning champions Barcelona and returning giants Manchester United were dealt favourable hands in the Champions League draw in Monaco on Thursday.

Barca's quest to become the first team to retain the European crown began smoothly as Lionel Messi and company were paired with Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and BATE Borisov in Group E.

United grace the competition after a year's absence and coach Louis van Gaal will be more than happy with the three-time winners' Group B sparring partners PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg.

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho returns to FC Porto, the club he guided to the continental crown in 2004, with this duo joined by Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Group G.

There will have been groans emanating from north London with Arsenal pitted against five-time titleholders Bayern Munich -- Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb completing Group F.

Bayern and Arsenal have met twice in the last-16 in 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 with the German giants winning on both occasions.

Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain and their Qatari backers are desperate to add a European crown to their trophy sideboard.

But the quarter-finalists in the last three seasons have a tricky time ahead after being lumped in with ten-time continental kings Real Madrid.

Also in the Group A mix are Malmo - the birthplace of PSG talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the side who sent Celtic crashing out of the play-offs on Tuesday - and Shakhtar Donetsk.

Group C sees debutants Astana, one of three first-timers in the competition, rubbing shoulders with Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray and two-time winners Benfica.

Another newcomer, Borussia Moenchengladbach, are set for a Champions League baptism of fire against last season's finalists Juventus, English Premier League champions Manchester City, and Europa League titleholders Sevilla in Group D.

Gent, the third team to be entering uncharted waters, can look forward to trips to Zenit St Petersburg, Valencia and Lyon in Group H.

The first round gets underway on September 15 and concludes next May at Milan's San Siro which last held the final in 2001, with Bayern Munich beating Valencia on penalties.

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