Champions League 2006/7 Group G

September 6, 2006
By Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell

Group G: Arsenal | FC Porto | CSKA Moscow | Hamburg
Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group H

Arsenal

Domestic finish last season: 4th in the Premiership

GettyImagesHenry was part of Wenger's 'beautiful football' legacy at Arsenal.

Champions League form guide: After years of harrowing setbacks, Arsene Wenger finally made his European breakthrough last season as he guided the Gunners to the Final in Paris.

The coach: Arsene Wenger

Wenger insists he never doubted his ability to excel in the Champions League, even though his impressive Premiership results have taken so long to be replicated in Europe's top competition.

'It's a strange situation I have found myself in at Arsenal,' he chuckles. 'When I was at Monaco many years ago, everyone said I was not good enough because the results in the French league were not coming. They said, 'he is only any use when it comes to the Champions League games'.

'In England, they have been saying the opposite about me for so long, but it all changed last season as we reached the Final. I never doubted it would come for Arsenal because we have only ever missed out by very small margins in the past. Now that we have got to one Final, we believe more can come.'

Star turn: Thierry Henry

Most observers believed Henry was playing his last game for Arsenal in last season's Champions League Final, yet his decision to stay in North London will only be justified if success follows for the Gunners this season.

Early-season woes have led to some to suggest Henry must already be regretting his decision to turn down Barcelona back in May, but he remains convinced he made the right move. 'I look at the future of this club and have no doubts it will be great,' states the Frenchman, who will again be the subject of transfer speculation if the Gunners fail to live up to their new Champions League billing this season.

'I have everything I could want at Arsenal and that's why I am never going to sit back and wonder what might have happened if I had tried another challenge. Everyone said we had no chance to achieve anything last season, but look what happened.'

The new face: Tomas Rosicky

Arsene Wenger believes he has signed a player who will comfortably fit into the boots left behind by the departed Robert Pires at Arsenal. The man nicknamed 'The Little Mozart' has a big reputation to live up to in England, but his manager is prepared to play the waiting game before he finds his touch.

'You may not see the very best of Tomas for some time because I always say that a foreign player takes at least six months to settle in England,' states Wenger of a player who was recently appointed as the new Czech Republic skipper.

'We have seen that with all the great players who have come to Arsenal in my time here, but I have no doubt that Tomas will be a big success. He is a guy I have been looking at for a long time and fits perfectly into the system we want to use here. Sometimes you chase a player for a long time, but the deal is never made, so I'm very pleased this one happened for us.'

The weak spot: An inexperienced defensive line-up that lost the influence of Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole during the summer will be tested to the full in this season's Champions League.

Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos are promising Swiss defenders, but against the cream of the best strikers in Europe, there must be doubts over their ability to stand firm. Much will depend on the influence of keeper Jens Lehmann and the always reliable Kolo Toure, as well as new-boy William Gallas.

A lack of strength in depth may be a problem as the transfer saga's surrounding Jose Antonio Reyes and Cole disrupted Wenger as his summer spending plans. Julio Baptista will need to settle in quickly after his deadline day move from Real Madrid.

Verdict: Arsenal will do well to repeat their stunning results of last season and may have to settle for a quarter-finals spot this time around. Such a scenario may see the vultures swooping to try and snap up captain Henry once again.


FC Porto

Domestic finish last season: Portuguese champions

GettyImagesPorto winger Tarik Sektioui shown back in his Willem II days

Champions League form guide: Porto bucked every trend imaginable when they claimed an unlikely triumph in the 2004 Champions League, but they were brought back down to earth with a bump last season as they finished bottom of their first round group.

The coach: Jesualdo Ferreira

After the sudden departure of Co Adriaanse in August, the Porto board needed to move quickly to get yet another man in place for the start of the campaign and Ferreira was picked to move through the constantly revolving coaches door at the Dragao Stadium.

Adriaanse's exit during was a surprise considering the success he brought to the club last season, but Ferreira insists he has no qualms about working with Porto's management board that led to his predecessor's demise. 'I know what to expect when you join a club of this size and it is natural that you will have to deal with a few different levels of management within the organisation,' he states. 'This is not a concern for me. It's a challenge I relish.'

Ferreira lists Braga among his former employees, but this is the biggest test of his coaching credentials. 'I take on the biggest job possible in Portuguese football and the standards expected here have to be maintained,' he adds.

The star turn: Adriano

He became the hero of the title-winning side assembled by Co Adriaanse last season, so it was no surprise to see his loan move from Cruzeiro converted into a permanent switch during the summer.

This Brazilian is a powerhouse when presented with a chance in the air and he enjoyed his finest hour in Porto colours in scoring the winning goal in last season's Portuguese Cup Final against Vitoria. With that, the double was assured and the club appeared to be back on track, but he fears the coaching changes this summer have unsettled the team.

'Our Champions League performances last time were not good enough for a club like Porto,' he accepts. 'We began to find a good pattern for the team in the second half of the season and that is when we felt everything was back on track again. The change in coach was not ideal, but we have to try and build on the progress made last year.'

The new face: Tarik Sektioui

A Moroccan right winger added to this Porto side during the summer, he offers bags of pace and tricks that are bound to make him a big favourite of the passionate Dragao stadium regulars.

Snapped up from AZ Alkmaar, he is looking on this Champions League campaign as his chance to establish himself to a worldwide audience. 'When you join a side that won the major prize in European football just a couple of years ago, it's clear that you are making a big step up,' he believes.

'I have no doubts that this move will help me to improve my skills and allow me to move my game onto a different level. The other appeal is that Portugal is so close to my home and the climate is what I have been used to all my life in Morocco.'

The weak spot: With so little time to reshape his squad and limited finances to do so, coach Ferreira will have to produce a few minor miracles to inspire Porto success in this group.

Benni McCarthy's departure to Premiership side Blackburn may see them coming up short in the scoring stakes this season, while the long-term injury to inspirational skipper Pedro Emanuel during the club's pre-season preparations has done little to help his cause.

The perception is that Porto are once again a club in a state of transition after a summer of change that could well have done without.

Verdict: After a confused period in the post-Mourinho era, Porto seemed to have rediscovered a way to win under Co Adriaanse's management. With that in mind, his exit so close to the start of the season is a big blow. A place in the UEFA Cup may be the best they can hope for from this Group G campaign.


CSKA Moscow

Domestic league finish last season: Russian League champions

GettyImagesCSKA Moscow's Daniel Carvalho

Champions League form guide: This is CSKA's third Champions League campaign. In 1992/93, they came last in their first round pool behind Marseille, Glasgow Rangers and Club Brugge. In 2004/05, they again failed to progress, beaten by Chelsea and FC Porto to the qualifying spots.

The coach: Valeri Gazzayev

This tactically astute boss is a disciple of fluent, fast-paced attacking football with lots of penetration on the flanks. Defensively he has done a good job too, with the back-line comfortable as a three or four-man unit, so Gazzayev will be hoping his side's steady progress at home can now be converted onto the Champions League stage.

He was controversially sacked as CSKA coach shortly after leading the club to the Russian title in 2003. A year later he was back, going on to enjoy his finest hour when he steered the Muscovites to triumph in the 2005 UEFA Cup, the first time a Russian club had won a continental prize.

Last year he was fined £2,600 by the Russian federation for 'raising his voice' at a referee during a league match against FC Moscow. As if that doesn't happen in every game around the world on a regular basis!

Star turn: Daniel Carvalho

This exceptional Brazilian attacking midfielder is the reigning Russian Footballer of the Year, the first foreigner to scoop the award. Both a dazzling creator and a man for vital goals, he is stockily built and all left foot, but what a left peg he has.

Bought for £2.9m from Internacional Porto Alegre in 2004, he initially found the going tough in the Russian capital and spent a large part of his first CSKA campaign on the bench. Only last year did everything click into place and he was instrumental in the Russian side claiming victory in the 2005 UEFA Cup Final.

'I have added consistency to my game and that is the crucial quality I have discovered in the last couple of years,' he says. 'Now we have the chance to make sure everyone is talking about me and the CSKA team.'

The 23-year-old was recently handed a three-match ban after being sent-off for pushing Kryliya Sovetov defender Branco to the floor, but was boosted by his first call-up to the Brazilian national squad for the game against Norway in August.

The new face: Jo

CSKA underlined their nose for Brazilian talent when they signed this gifted frontrunner from Corinthians of Sao Paulo early year. The 20-year-old hit the ground running, scoring 11 goals in his first nine league games and then adding two more in the domestic Cup Final victory over Moscow Spartak.

He also became the first non-CIS player to score four goals in the Russian Premier League, rewriting the record books in a game against Shinnik Yaroslavl. Tall, powerful and yet incredibly quick, he was a teenage sensation at Corinthians, going from the juniors to first team star in the blink of an eye.

'CSKA is a club that has proved to be a good place for Brazilian talent in the last few years and that was an important factor when I came to make a decision about my future,' he says. 'It has started so well for me here and now comes the ultimate challenge of the Champions League. It fills me with excitement.'

The weak spot: Brazilian striker Vagner Love is skilful speedy, incisive and certainly knows where the goal is. However, there has been talk that he wants to play in warmer climes so he may not be on top form as the later games in this group phase of the Champions League dips into the Russian winter.

In the all-important midfield area, CSKA can sometimes sit off their opponents a little too much. A more effective pressing game is required, but they simply don't have the tools to pull off such a change in direction.

Finally, they need to be more attentive when defending set-pieces as on occasion they inexplicably switch off. Opposition managers will not have allowed this flaw in their make-up to go unnoticed.

Verdict: The old army club could just spring a surprise and march into the last 16.


SV Hamburg

Domestic finish last season: 3rd in the Bundesliga

GettyImagesHamburg's Rafael Van der Vaart

Champions League form guide: This club have enjoyed plenty of success in Europe over the years, notably claiming the Cup Winners' Cup in 1977 and the Champions Cup in 1983. Still, they have only participated once in the Champions League proper, failing to progress beyond a first round group also containing Deportivo La Coruna, Panathinaikos and Juventus in 2000/01.

The coach: Thomas Doll

This highly-rated young coach has done sterling work at Hamburg since being promoted from junior team co-ordinator to head coach in the autumn of 2004. Many expected it to be a temporary appointment, but he proved the doubters seriously wrong, taking a team which was relegation candidates and turning them into one of the top sides in Germany.

Doll has proved himself very cute tactically, normally using a flexible 4-4-2 system. Another strong suit is his man-management skills, achieving the delicate balancing act of preserving his authority while staying very close to his players, though he has had to deal with some discontent in his squad of late.

One of the all-time great East German players, he starred on the left-wing for the DDR, the reunited Germany, Hansa Rostock, Hamburg, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lazio, Bari. Always popular during his time in Serie A, it would be no surprise if he went to coach in Italy should his tactics catch the eye in this Champions League campaign.

Star turn: Rafael van der Vaart

This brilliant little Dutch playmaker has seen his career rekindled by a move from Ajax to Hamburg a year ago. Unlike Holland boss Marco van Basten - who strangely employs him on the left-side - Thomas Doll wisely employs him in his best position, a free-wheeling role just behind the strikers.

When he joined Hamburg, Dutch legend Johan Cruyff slammed him for showing a lack of ambition. Van der Vaart continues to refute that charge, arguing that Hamburg are a coming team in Europe.

'Soon the whole continent will see that Hamburg are a force to be reckoned with,' he claims. 'I knew this would be a good move me and the people that were asking question have had their answers. I saw the potential here and maybe we will show what is possible in the Champions League.'

In the debit column, Van der Vaart seems to pick up more than his share of injuries and he recently tore a thigh muscle which may sideline him for the early part of Hamburg's Champions League campaign.

The new face: Boubacar Sanogo

This outstanding Ivory Coast striker was signed for £2.7m from relegated Kaiserslautern in the close season. Last season, his first in the Bundesliga, he was revelation, scoring ten times and creating seven others.

Sanogo began his career in his homeland with Siroco FC in San Pedro before emigrating to Tunisia to play for Esperance and then heading for the Gulf, where he helped Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates scoop the Asian Champions League in 2003.

He offers a multi-dimensional threat; extremely strong in the air, a mazy dribbler and adept at holding the ball up. His nickname is 'Jurgen' because of his admiration for ex-Germany striker and national team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann.

The weak spot: While new Belgian centre-back Vincent Kompany is a class act, Hamburg lost a great deal of muscle from their back-four when Daniel van Buyten and Khalid Boulahrouz left this summer for Bayern Munich and Chelsea respectively. It means that in the air, they could be found wanting.

Is the atmosphere at the club right? New Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero, bought recently from Bayern, stormed home after being substituted in the first game of the season, while the Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong is complaining long and loud about being played out of position on the left.

Neither of their keepers, Sascha Kirschstein or Stefan Wachter, look too convincing, so Hamburg will have plenty of questions to answer in a group that seems to give them genuine hope of making it through to the last 16.

Verdict: Provided Van der Vaart is fit, they should join Arsenal in the next round. Anything more is dreamland.


  • Any thoughts? Then you can email the Newsdesk.