MONACO - European champions Barcelona will quickly renew acquaintances with their former striker Samuel Eto'o when they begin the defence of their trophy at Inter Milan in their opening Champions League match next month. The draw also brought together AC Milan and nine-time European champions Real Madrid in another mouthwatering Italian versus Spanish clash with Brazil forward Kaka facing his old club at his new Bernabeu home on Matchday Three. Eto'o left Barca for Inter in the close season in a swap deal worth 66 million euros with Zlatan Ibrahimovic moving in the opposite direction. The Cameroon forward scored for Barcelona in the Champions League finals of 2006 and last May when they won the trophy for the third time and, just like his Swedish counterpart, will now be looking to put one over on his former team mates. "It will be emotional having Samuel Eto'o back at the Nou Camp Nou and Ibrahimovic at the San Siro," Barcelona president Joan Laporta told Italian Sky television. "That's football. It was destiny. We know we have a complicated group. We are very proud of last year but it's over and we are starting again. We must show the same motivation as last year. Dream and work hard." Kaka, the subject of another seismic transfer in the close season when he left Milan to join Real for 67 million euros, will also relish facing his former club. Kaka won the European Cup with Milan in 2007, but is now set on bringing Real a 10th European title in their own Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the venue for this season's final on May 22. Real host Milan on October 21 with the return leg in Madrid two weeks later. EUROPEAN ARISTOCRACY Inter, managed by Jose Mourinho who worked under the late Bobby Robson as a coach at the Nou Camp in the 1990s, have met Barcelona six times in European competition with the Spaniards winning three times and Inter once. Their only previous Champions League duels came in the second stage in 2002-03 when Barca won 3-0 at home and drew 0-0 away. The clash between Milan and Real is another meeting of European club aristocracy and renews a rivalry that began in the first session of the European Cup when Real beat Milan in the 1955-56 semi-finals. They have met 11 times in all, including the 1958 final when Real beat Milan 3-2 after extra time in Brussels. The last three times Milan met Madrid, the Italian side went on to win the title (1989, 1990 and 2003) while the first two times they met Real won the Cup in 1956 and 1958. The two clubs have won the European Cup 16 times between them. Their only previous meeting in the Champions League was in 2002-03 second group stage when Milan won 1-0 at home and lost 3-1 away. "It's an interesting group," Milan's organisation director Umberto Gandini told Sky television. "We have 16 European champions titles between us. It's a stellar encounter against Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, the encounter the football world was waiting for." Drawn alongside Milan and Madrid in Group C are former European Cup winners Olympique Marseille, who beat the Italian side in the 1993 final, and FC Zurich, back in the elite competition for the first time in 28 years. Barcelona and Inter will also face Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine and Russian newcomers Rubin Kazan in Group F. LONG DISTANCES Manchester United, last season's beaten finalists, face three clubs for the first time in Group B where they have been drawn alongside CSKA Moscow, Besiktas and VfL Wolfsburg. United chief executive David Gill told reporters: "We cannot complain about that, apart perhaps from the long distances involved, but we will be looking forward to going back to Moscow, we have good memories there winning the trophy in 2008." Chelsea, bidding to win the competition for the first time under new coach Carlo Ancelotti - a previous winner as player and coach with Milan - will meet Porto, Atletico Madrid and APOEL Nicosia, who are taking part for the first time. Another intriguing battle will take place in Group A with former winners Bayern Munich taking on Juventus while Girondins Bordeaux and Maccabi Haifa complete the group. Despite their successes in Europe, Bayern and Juve have only clashed four times, all in the Champions League group stage, with their last meeting coming in 2005-06 when both teams won 2-1 at home in the group stage. The competition starts with Matchday One on September 15/16.
27 August 2009
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