Barcelona gets favorable draw in Champions League groups
Santino Honasan on Aug 28, 2015 03:24 PM
(AP Photo/Claude Paris)
AP Sports Writer
MONACO (AP) — Barcelona got a favorable start to its title defense, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's wish to go home was granted and Benfica was given the longest trip in Champions League history on Thursday.
The group-stage draw also means Bayern Munich play Arsenal for the third time in four seasons and sent Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho back to Porto where he won his first Champions League title.
Manchester United's return after a one-year absence will be at Group B's top-seeded club whose best player it bought in the offseason. United's new No. 7 Memphis Depay can look forward to a Sept. 15 date back at PSV Eindhoven.
World football's most coveted club competition set up many story lines for the 32 elite clubs, who will share 1.2 billion euros ($1.37 billion) in UEFA prize money over the next nine months.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo resume their duel for the all-time competition scoring record tied on 77 career goals, and Barcelona's star forward seems favored to forge ahead.
Defending champion Barcelona will kick off at Roma and also play BATE Borisov and Bayer Leverkusen. Messi routed the German side with five goals in a 7-1 win when they met in the last-16 round in 2012.
Ronaldo and Real Madrid landed in a tougher group with Shakhtar Donetsk and Ibrahimovic's current and first clubs, Paris Saint-Germain and Malmo.
"One day I hope to experience the Champions League in Malmo on the pitch. Congratulations!" the Sweden great had posted on Twitter after his boyhood club advanced through the playoff round on Wednesday.
Ibrahimovic will be 34 by Nov. 25 when PSG plays at Malmo, which he left as a 19-year-old to join Ajax.
On the same day, Portugal champion Benfica will play at newcomer Astana — the further point east any club has played since the European Cup was rebranded the Champions League 23 years ago.
Benfica's flight from Lisbon of around 6,100 kilometers (3,800 miles) across six time zones will mean kicking off in the Kazakhstan capital when it is 3 p.m. on a Wednesday back home.
The group is completed by Galatasaray and Atletico Madrid, whose match in Astana will be a 4 p.m. Tuesday start for fans in Spain.
Europe's four highest-ranked leagues meet in the group of Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
"Serie A, the Premier League and the Bundesliga all in the most competitive, demanding and exciting group," said Sevilla coach Unai Emery, whose team is the first to qualify by winning the previous season's Europa League.
Chelsea's Mourinho guided Porto to win the Champions League in 2004 immediately before starting his first spell at Stamford Bridge.
His quest to be the first coach to win Europe's premier club title with three different clubs — after Porto and Inter Milan in 2010 — starts in a group with Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Though Man United landed with the lowest-ranked top-seeded club in PSV, the group has depth with CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg.
Bayern eliminated Arsenal at the last-16 stage in 2013 and 2014, though the English club will expect to advance ahead of Olympiakos and Dinamo Zagreb.
"It's nice, against Arsenal, that we'll meet two old friends from the national team in Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said.
With UEFA separating Russian and Ukrainian teams in the draw, top-seeded Zenit St. Petersburg was grouped with Valencia, Lyon and Gent. The champion of Belgium is the second club making its debut at the elite level.
The six rounds of group matches end on Dec. 9. The top two in each group advance to the last-16 knockout round which begins in February.