Champions League 2006/7, Group E

September 5, 2006
By Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell

Group E: Real Madrid | Lyon | Steau Bucharest | Dynamo Kiev
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group F | Group G | Group H

Real Madrid

Domestic finish last season: 2nd in La Liga

GettyImagesVan Nistelrooy: Pleading for another chance

Champions League Form Guide: The nine-time champions have flattered to deceive since their last triumph in 2002. Surprisingly dumped out of the competition by Arsenal at the last-16 stage last season, they simply must do better this time.

The coach: Fabio Capello

One of the biggest winners from the Juventus match-fixing scandal was the veteran Capello, who used the demotion of the 'Old Lady' as his excuse to beat a hasty retreat from Turin, with his reputation fully intact.

Appreciating the need to rebuild a faltering side full of ageing 'Galacticos', Capello has spent a vast fortune in assembling a new-look Real squad that boasts enough quality to test the best in Europe if he can find the right balance.

'I believe we now have a competitive Real Madrid team once again,' declares Capello. 'We can experiment with some younger players, but the experience we have brought in in allows us to look forward with confidence. The Spanish title and the Champions League have to be within reach for a club like this.'

Star turn: Ruud van Nistelrooy

Few doubt Van Nistelrooy's qualities and after Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson discarded him so publicly at the end of last season, he is likely to be a wounded tiger with a point to prove at the Bernabeu.

His stunning record in the Champions League suggests Madrid fans may see the best of the Dutchman in this competition and he is certainly keen to add European glory to his list of honours.

'When you join this club, it doesn't take long to realise the big trophy they want is the Champions League,' says the hitman who favours his right foot on the pitch, yet signs autographs with his left hand.

'I have been lucky to have some great times in this competition, but the winners' medal has not come my way yet. It's a trophy any player wants to win and I hope this move gives me the chance to achieve the dream.'

The new face: Fabio Cannavaro

Age is no barrier to this central defender who is the latest in a long list of high profile stars who has vowed to solving Real Madrid's long standing problems at the heart of their back line.

A master in the art of reading the game, his sparkling performances in Italy's World Cup triumph this summer sparked a race to secure his services following Juventus' demotion to Serie B and he is intent on cementing his legend in the Spanish capital.

'I never believed I would get the chance to make a move like this at such a late stage in my career, but now it has happened and I feel honoured,' states the Italian skipper, who started on the road to the top by serving as a ball-boy at Napoli during in Diego Maradona's time at the club.

'The idea of working with Capello in trying to bring the Champions League back to Madrid appealed to me and I hope to be the one who finds a solution to Real Madrid's defensive problems of recent years.'

The weak spot: On their day, Real Madrid have always been capable of ripping through the best of opponents, so the reasons for their failings over the last three years can be explained thus.

The policy of signing superstar players whether they fitted into the team structure or not proved to be flawed, as was the idea of sacking the coach every time the side had a bad run at home or in the Champions League. A change in direction in terms of transfers appears to bode well and this summer's signings have been made with the team's shape in mind.

Defensively, Real have been a shambles for all too long, but Capello is the master tactician who should solve that problem with the help of his trusty side-kick Cannavaro. His dilemma could still be fitting in attacking talent from Raul, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy, Robinho, Antonio Cassano and new boy Jose Antonio Reyes into a balanced line-up.

Verdict: While Capello's arrival adds steel to Real Madrid's challenge, Gerard Houllier's Lyon will test them to the full in their attempts to reach the last 16 as group winners. They could come on strong when their new-look side settles down, so may be a good bet to shine in the knock-out stages.


Lyon

Domestic league finish last season: French league champions

GettyImagesLyon's exciting talent Juninho

Champions League form guide: Lyon have gone out at the quarter-final stage in the last three seasons - beaten by Milan last term, PSV Eindhoven in 2004/05 and FC Porto in 2003/04. Can they turn consistent near misses into tangible success this time?

The coach: Gerard Houllier

Although this is his 33rd year as a coach, the former Lens, Paris Saint-Germain, France and Liverpool boss has lost none of his trademark single-mindedness and admits he will be disappointed if Lyon do not meet his targets for this season - a sixth consecutive Ligue 1 title and at least a semi-final spot in the Champions League.

'We should be aiming high at this club as the expectations have been raised to much in the last few years,' he says.

His watchwords have always been meticulous organisation and tactical discipline, but during his time in charge at Liverpool (1998-2004), he seemed to place a little too much emphasis on defensive matters. Since taking over from Paul Le Guen at Lyon in 2005, he has, to his credit, been much bolder in his attacking options.

He achieved his best Champions League results in 2001/02 when his Liverpool side reached the quarter-finals, where they were knocked out by Bayer Leverkusen. In 2001 he steered the Merseysiders to both the UEFA Cup and European Super Cup.

The star turn: Juninho

There is nothing the 31-year-old Brazilian midfielder cannot do on a football pitch. He can battle and tackle, pass with precision long or short, dribble brilliantly and, last but by no means least, he is a free-kick wizard, able to outfox a keeper with a curling shot from any distance.

Add in a touch of additional confidence and Juninho could be a force to be reckoned with the in European competition this season. 'Every year we come to believe in ourselves a little more,' he states. 'We feel we are the equal of anyone in the Champions League. We're determined to go all the way. No French team has won since Marseille in 1993 and it would be great for us to make some history.'

Hailing from the north-eastern Brazilian city of Recife, he won the South American championship (Copa Libertadores) while with Rio side Vasco da Gama in 1998. Now he is gunning for the European equivalent.

The new face: Jeremy Toulan

A very promising French under-21 defensive midfielder who Lyon finally managed to prise away from Nantes' grasp after many months of trying, Toulan now gets his chance in the Champions League. Paris Saint-Germain and Glasgow Rangers were also said to be in the hunt for him, but he says he was only interested in Lyon.

A product of Nantes much-celebrated youth scheme - which once churned out Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps - he is industrious, has a good tactical appreciation and is a fine passer. A weakness is a lack of goals, strange for someone who does have a powerful shot.

Many see him playing for France at the next World Cup. 'We have wanted Jeremy for a long time,' said Gerard Houllier. 'He has the same dynamic and purposeful game as we have here. I have no doubts we have signed a player who will prove himself to be a top class international for many years to come.'

The weak spot: Lyon stand head and shoulders above the rest of Ligue 1. They can cruise to the title every year in second gear and that is hardly the best preparation for the vastly more intense Champions League.

They will badly miss the Malian midfield enforcer Mahamadou Diarra, who joined Real Madrid in the transfer window and while Toulalan is a good prospect, he does not have the same physical presence as the African. So maybe the midfield area will be a concern for Houllier this time around.

Brazilian centre-backs Cris and Claudio Cacapa are not the tallest and even though both read the game very well and are tough tacklers, they may be exposed in the air.

Verdict: As ever, they are odds on to reach the last-eight and could even go a step further if their star men avoid injury.


Steau Bucharest

Domestic league finish last season: Romanian champions

GettyImagesSteaua Bucharest forwards Nicolae Dica (L) and Daniel Oprita

Champions League form guide: Steaua have not qualified since three straight appearances between the 1994/95 and 1996/97 seasons, failing each time to progress to the knock-out rounds. They famously won the 1986 European Cup, defeating Terry Venables' Barcelona on penalties in the final in Seville.

The coach: Cosmin Olariou

The 37-year-old took over as Steaua boss from the Ukrainian Oleg Protasov midway through last season. He was an instant success, guiding the team to the Romania title and the domestic Cup. Under his leadership Steaua also reached the semi-finals of the 2005-06 UEFA Cup, where they lost out to Middlesbrough.

Olariou's favoured formation is a 4-1-3-2 system. He likes his side to press high up the pitch and encourages a neat, short passing game. In last season's UEFA Cup, his team proved themselves very dangerous on the counter-attack, adept at soaking up pressure and then breaking out very quickly. He is also known for demanding extremely high standards of fitness.

The former national Bucharest and Politehnica Timisoara coach is confident his side can spring a surprise in Group E:

'We have nothing no lose,' states Olariou. 'Everyone expects Real Madrid, Dynamo Kiev and Lyon to dominate. If they take us lightly, we have the skill and organisation to capitalise. Maybe we could have had a better group, but the challenge to cause the upset is exciting.'

Star turn: Nicolae Dica

An outstanding attacking midfielder, who has been compared to the legendary ex-Romanian national team number ten Gheorghe Hagi. The 26-year-old has a wonderful touch on the ball, bags of invention and runs elusively with the ball. Most important of all, he is a composed finisher and can also play up front if needed.

In six seasons seasons in the Romanian top-flight with Arges Pitesti and Steaua, he has amassed 74 goals. He joined Steaua from Arges halfway through the 2003/04 campaign, a term in which he came second in the national scoring charts with 18 strikes.

Steaua's vice-captain made his full international debut for Romania in a friendly with Japan in Bucharest in October 2003 and to date has collected 15 caps. He will be a key man as the nation look to qualify for Euro 2008.

The new face: Ovidiu Petre

This Romanian international midfielder arrived for £700,000 from Politehnica Timisora during the summer. 'It doesn't get any better than this,' said the 24-year-old. 'Steaua are the biggest club in Romania and I now have the chance to play against teams of the calibre of Real Madrid and Lyon in the Champions League.'

A defensive midfielder, his game his based on non-stop industry and his fearsome bite in the tackle. He reads the game well and uses the ball intelligently once he has won it. A worry could be his fitness, as he has suffered with knee trouble for a few years.

Steaua coach Olariou knows him well, having coached him at National Bucharest and Timisora. Petre also had a short-lived spell in Turkey with Galatasaray (2004-05).

The weak spot: Steaua simply do not have the strength in depth to truly compete at the highest level in Europe. Injuries or suspensions to first-teamers will plunge them into crisis.

Centre-backs Sorin Ghionea and Nicolae Goian are teak-tough competitors but are ill at ease when confronted by sheer pace, which they are bound to see plenty of in this devilishly tough opening group. A solution might be for defensive midfielder and club captain Mirel Radoi to retreat into the heart of the back-four.

Carlos Alberto Fernandez, the Portuguese keeper signed from Boavista early this year has great relaxes and is brave but can be panicked under pressure and you wonder whether they have the firepower to test the best of defences in the Champions League.

Verdict: The fact that they have few foreign players tells its own story. Romanian football is not as strong as it used to be and Steaua will struggle against the European cream.


Dynamo Kyiv

Domestic finish last season: 2nd

EmpicsSerhiy Rebrov: Back with Dynamo

Champions League form guide: Semi-finalists in 1977, 1986 and 1999, they have struggled to get through the group stages of late. Knocked out by the minnows of FC Thun at the qualifying stage late season, they qualified this time by seeing off Turkish side Fenerbahce.

The coach: Anatoly Demyanenko

Everyone taking up the post of Dynamo Kyiv coach will be compared to the great Valeriy Lobanovsky and Demyanenko knows he needs to combine domestic success with Champions League glory to be viewed in a favourable light.

The rise of Shakhtar Donetsk has certainly lifted the standards of Ukraine's domestic league football, but Demyanenko insists Dynamo have more on their mind than merely avenging last season's nail-biting finale, when a play-off was required to divide the top two after their dramatic dead heat and Shakhtar came out on top.

'We made some progress last season and the ambition is to show how far this team has come since we were last involved in the Champions League,' says Demyanenko, who was initially installed as Dynamo on a temporary basis in the summer of 2005.

'I could see the spirit in this club when we came through our qualifying game in Turkey even though we had some key men out injured. That bodes well for the future.'

Star turn: Serhiy Rebrov

Tottenham fans are entitled to have a quiet chuckle every time they see this little man strutting his stuff in the Champions League as he was little more than a disaster during his time at White Hart Lane.

At a cost of £11m, much was expected of the striker who made his name as Andriy Shevchenko's Ukraine national team sidekick, but it never worked out for him in England and he has only begun to rediscover his form since returning home. Indeed, he collected the accolade of Ukrainian Footballer of the Year last season.

'I feel right in the Dynamo shirt and we have something very important to aim for this season,' states the forward who was among the goals in the preliminary rounds of this season's Champions League. 'The signings we have made give us a different dimension and even though we are in a tough opening group, I like our chances, especially at home. To be in the Champions League again is a great boost for everyone at the club.'

The new face: Carlos Rodrigues Correa

This talented Brazilian arrived from Palmeiras during the summer and he got off to a flier with a host of impressive performances in the Dynamo side.

A key man in the preliminary round victory over Fenerbahce, his powerful bursts from the midfield look set to be a big hit with supporters at the Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium and he seems intent on succeeding in his new challenge.

'I didn't score so many goals back in Brazil, but that has changed since I came to Kyiv,' he says with a smile. 'The key for me is that this club already has some Brazilian players who have done well here and I wanted to come along and join them.'

The weak spot: Injuries have hit Anatoly Demyanenko's squad hard with Serbian midfielder Milos Ninkovic and Ukrainian international Vladislav Vashchuk both struggling to be fit after pre-season injury problems that proved to be slow to heal.

A lack of experience at Champions League level may also be a concern as while many of this Dynamo squad look superior every week in the Ukrainian league, they may struggle to adapt to the vast leap of taking on Europe's best.

So much depends on Serhiy Rebrov and fellow Ukrainian international Ruslan Rotan, so an injury to either would be a big blow. Look out for dangerous Latvian Maris Verpakovskis making an impact coming off the bench.

Verdict: Real Madrid and Lyon should run away with Group E, yet Kyiv could sneak into third position and claim a UEFA Cup place.


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