Sep 1, 2011
With the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League group stage getting under way in a couple of weeks, we’re here to provide an introduction to some of the competition’s less-familiar faces. Their opponents will do everything they can to deprive these teams of a warm welcome, so we figure it’s the least we can do.
The big boys of Group C would be unwise to lick their chops at the sight of FC Basel — the Swiss club didn’t find itself in the Champions League by way of raffle ticket. While the Swiss Super League is one of Europe’s smaller leagues, five league titles in the last seven years is nothing to scoff at, and that’s exactly what FC Basel has achieved. The club has also participated in European competition every season since 1999, so don’t expect these guys to flop because of pressure.
If they do crash out of the group stage, it’ll be less about the pressure of the competition and more about the Red Devils of Manchester United. Benfica will also pose a massive task for Basel in Group C, but if the Swiss side can ride the support of its fans — some of the best in the world — they’ll be battling for that second ticket to the round of 16. Competition newcomer Oțelul Galați won’t be eager to roll over in its Champions League debut, but Basel’s quality and experience should see them best the Romanians. It’ll definitely be an upset for Benfica if FC Basel advances in its place, but given Basel’s experience and form over the last few years, it wouldn’t be a complete shock.
Contrary to first glance, Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb actually fits in well with its talented Group D — statistically anyway, if not in talent. Olympique Lyonnais, while two titles behind Marseille, is known for its dominance in the French top flight, and Ajax holds the claim of most Eredivisie titles. Dinamo Zagreb is also known as the flagship club of its division and holds the most titles (12) in the Croatian league. Pair the latter with the fact the club has never been relegated from the top flight, and you’ve got two impressive statistics the Croatians share with Spanish giant Real Madrid.
But UEFA isn’t handing out trophies for being comparable to the competition. Make no mistake, Dinamo Zagreb is a tremendously decorated club, but the gap in quality between the Croatian top flight and the leagues of their group competition may prove to be too wide. It’s tough to recall a Champions League in recent history that didn’t feature both Real Madrid and Lyon in the Round of 16, and it’d be a surprise if we didn’t see the same this year. Additionally, it says something if a club of Ajax’s quality can immediately be assessed as a team likely to crash out of a group of four that advances two teams. Put bluntly, it’d be an amazing feat if Dinamo Zagreb survived its colossal group.