By Samindra Kunti
August 31 – England’s Newcastle United were drawn alongside Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan in the heavyweight group of the 2023/24 Champions League, the last time the competition will be played in the current format.
After a dramatic montage of last season’s competition and some words from both Eric Abidal and Joe Cole, the draw got underway in Monaco after a turbulent week for UEFA following the suspension of the organisation’s vice-president Luis Rubiales, and set out the path to Wembley Stadium which will host the final on June 1.
In a repeat of the 1999 Champions League final, Manchester United and Bayern Munich meet in Group A. The German club fell in the quarter-finals last season to eventual winners Manchester City, while United exited the Europa League at the same stage. Denmark’s Copenhagen and Turkey’s Galatasaray complete Group A.
Manchester City, who at last won the competition in Istanbul last June defeating Inter Milan 1-0, were handed a favourable draw. They will play RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys in Group G.
Arsenal, who return to the elite competition for the first time since the 2016/17 season, can’t complain either, facing PSV Eindhoven, Sevilla and Lens.
The standout group of the first round unites Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and Newcastle United, who under Saudi ownership return to Europe’s premier club competition for the first time since 2003 when they fell at the second group stage. They will meet Qatari-owned PSG, for whom the scenario of a new early exit is not improbable. The French club have become eternal chokers in the competition.
Among the lesser gods, Germany’s Union Berlin and Belgium’s Royal Antwerp – in pot 4 – are debutants in the competition. The two clubs embody the wide spectrum of ownership models with Union benefitting from the 50+1 model and ownership by members and Antwerp enjoying the financial power of owner and real estate behemoth Paul Gheysens.
The Belgian champions were the last club out of the hat and will travel to Barcelona, Donetsk and Porto. Berlin have been rewarded with a trip to Europe’s most successful club, Real Madrid. They also face Napoli and Braga in Group C.
It is the last time the competition will be played in the current format, with UEFA introducing the Swiss model next season. Thirty-six clubs will compete in a league format. Each team will play 10 different teams across their games with five being at home and the other five away from home.
On the sidelines of the draw, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin awarded Miroslav Klose, the legendary German striker, with the president’s award. Erling Haaland and Aitana Bonmati won the men’s and women’s players of the year awards. Pep Guardiola and Sarina Wiegman won the men’s and women’s coach of the year awards. The England manager dedicated her award to Spain’s women’s team, referencing the Rubiales incident.
She said: “We all know the issues around the Spain team and it really hurts me as a coach, a mother and a daughter. I’d like to dedicate this award to the Spanish team, who played such good football, this team deserves to be celebrated and listened to.”
Bonmati added: “These are not good times in Spanish football, there are things that we cannot let go of. As a society we should not allow the abuse of power, the lack of respect, we are with Jenni and with all the women who have gone through the same thing.”
Group A: Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Copenhagen, Galatasaray
Group B: Sevilla, Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven, Lens
Group C: Napoli, Real Madrid, Braga, Union Berlin
Group D: Benfica, Inter, Salzburg, Real Sociedad
Group E: Feyenoord, Atletico Madrid, Lazio, Celtic Glasgow
Group F: Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, Newcastle United
Group G: Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade, Young Boys.
Group H: FC Barcelona, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Royal Antwerp
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