Inter, Madrid in tough Champions groups

Updated: August 26, 2010, 5:25 PM ET
Associated Press

MONACO -- Real Madrid, AC Milan and Ajax, who have won 20 European Cups between them, will meet in the group stage of the Champions League.

It is the second consecutive season that nine-time champion Madrid and seven-time winner Milan have been drawn together. Auxerre is the fourth team in Group G.

"Facing Real Madrid is very evocative -- it's a very stimulating challenge," AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said after Thursday's draw in Monaco. "The San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu will be completely full and it's sure to be a show. Ajax and Auxerre got through their playoffs brilliantly and are two very worthy opponents.

"We're going to have to maintain our concentration and physical condition for all these games. It's an iron-tough group."

Defending champion Inter will play Werder Bremen, Tottenham and FC Twente in Group A. Madrid has not won the competition since 2002 and has not been past the quarterfinals since 2004.

"It is a very difficult group of course, but very attractive for the fans [because] of all the history with these three clubs," Madrid director of football Emilio Butragueno said. "It will be very even."

For Jose Mourinho, the draw is an early chance to impress at Madrid after leaving Inter having won the title in May.

"We hope that he is the right man to take the team to the title," Butragueno said. "Maybe [he wanted] a little easier [group]. But, anyway, we have to face this situation. We are Real Madrid and we will try to do our best."

Ajax, which won the last of its four European Cups in 1995, is back in the Champions League for the first time since 2005 after beating Dynamo Kiev in the playoff round.

"You want to win every match and when you see AC Milan and Real Madrid in the pool, you know it will be tough," Ajax coach Martin Jol said.

It was an intriguing draw for Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf, a two-time winner with the Serie A side who has also won the competition with Madrid and Ajax.

Bayern Munich, last season's losing finalist, was drawn with AS Roma, FC Basel and Cluj in Group E.

Ferguson It's a good draw for us. You always look at the traveling side of it and the only one that's of any great distance is the trip to Turkey.

-- Man United manager Alex Ferguson

Barcelona will be hoping to avoid losing to Rubin Kazan for a second straight season. The 2009 champions were drawn with the Russian club in Group D alongside Panathinaikos and FC Copenhagen.

Premier League champion Chelsea will also be traveling to Russia, to face Spartak Moscow. Marseille and newcomer Zilina are also in Group F.

Marseille coach Didier Deschamps and Chelsea striker Didier Drogba will both come up against clubs they used to play for.

"It's a good Champions League group, with Chelsea as the team that's shaping up as the big favorite and the rest of the group is open," Marseille sporting director Jose Anigo said. "But compared to last season, I feel that we're better equipped."

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson will be reunited with Rangers. which he played for in the 1960s. Valencia and Bursaspor of Turkey make up Group C.

"[Rangers manager] Walter Smith's already been on the phone, talking about tickets for Old Trafford. Like me, he's really looking forward to our games against each other," Ferguson said. "It's a good draw for us. You always look at the traveling side of it and the only one that's of any great distance is the trip to Turkey."

Arsenal will face former striker Eduardo da Silva when it plays Shakhtar Donetsk, while FC Braga of Portugal and Partizan Belgrade complete Group H.

"In Shakhtar, we are playing a team that was UEFA Cup champions a couple of seasons ago, a team that has invested a lot and has made a lot of progress," Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said. "[Eduardo] will get an incredibly warm welcome from our fans who love him and wish him nothing but the best ... unless he's playing against us."

Lyon, the top-seeded team in Group B, was paired with Benfica, Schalke and Hapoel Tel Aviv. Lyon reached the semifinals for the first time last season, but club president Jean-Michel Aulas is wary of the group.

"Sometimes draws are more difficult than they seem at first. Benfica eliminated Marseille [in last season's Europa League] and Schalke made Bayern suffer," Aulas said. "We will have to be very vigilant. It is a very balanced group and we will need to be at our best to get out of this group."


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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