FK Qarabag
Atletico Madrid
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Manchester United
6:45 PM UTC
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Sporting CP
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Paris Saint-Germain
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Bayern Munich
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CSKA Moscow
FC Basel
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Ghana U17
Niger U17
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Brazil U17
Honduras U17
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Urawa Red DiamondsUrawa Red Diamonds
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Leg 2Aggregate: 2 - 1
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Transfer Rater: Rashford to Real Madrid


The boy done well

He is the boy who became a man before millions of admiring eyes over the course of the last year, yet spending time in the company of Cecs Fabregas reminds you that he is still just a kid.

A 19-year-old kid, in fact, but such a relevant detail could easily have been overlooked after a year that saw him step into Patrick Vieira's legendary boots at Arsenal and sparkle in both the Champions League and World Cup.

His return to the Arsenal first team last week suggested there is even more to come from Fabregas as he produced a quite stunning display to all-but secure Arsenal's passage to the first phase of this season's Champions League against Dynamo Zagreb.

Scoring twice in Zagreb and showing the sort of leadership on the field few of his age exude, Fabregas confirmed his status as the shining star among the gems Arsene Wenger has assembled in the last few years, yet when you sit next to this slight teenager and canvas his views on the game he has mastered so quickly, it's hard to neglect that fact that he still looks like a novice ball-boy.

'Sometimes I don't realise what an amazing 12 months I have just lived through,' begins the quietly spoken Fabregas. 'To look back now and say I played in a Champions League Final a World Cup at such a young age is amazing really. Everything in my life has gone so quickly since I came to Arsenal aged just 15.

'Still, that is just the start and this is probably going to be the most important season of my career. For the last year I was the little boy of the team and if I make a mistake, you can forgive it.

'Sure, last season was very important for me but this year I have to play even better and work harder for the team. I realise that it could be my year and Arsenal's year because we have a great team. If you play well, the team will do well and that for me is the most important thing. Of course sometimes individually you think about your own ambitions, but for me the most important thing is always the team.'

Composed and sublimely gifted already, those who suggest he has the potential to become one of the world's greatest midfielders look certain to be proved right when he adds some bulk to his frame. With determination and passion for the game burning through his eye, he possesses a steely determination not to allow success to throw him off track and that is why Fabregas is on course to develop into the complete package.

The fairy tale stories that surround 'wonderkids' in this game invariably end with a wicked witch, or a greedy agent, casting a curse on them, so it is refreshing to talk with a young man who refuses to allow fame to cloud his judgement.

While some teenage sporting icons choose to advertise their wealth in a lavish manner, Fabregas genuinely seems to be a lad who prefers the simple life and the ever-immaculate Wenger can take much of the credit for his modest development.

Quite how Arsenal managed to prize this sparkling jewel out of Barcelona's youth team set-up is a mystery that may never be solved, yet Fabregas is every inch an Arsenal player now and while the likes of Ashley Cole and Jose Antonio Reyes do all they can to escape from the club, he remains their biggest cheerleader.

'Sometimes people don't realise what Arsenal is like,' continues the Spaniard. 'To those outside, everything might seem big, with the new stadium and the star players, but inside everything is small.

'It's just like a family and I always know that Arsenal will do what's best for me. That's why I'm so happy here. If I stayed at Barcelona, the opportunities to play in the first team may not have been there. The same may be true if I had taken up the interest Real Madrid had in me.

'Arsene Wenger is different as he gives you a chance. First maybe in the Carling Cup, then the FA Cup, then a few minutes in the Premiership. Slowly, you feel a part of it and that is best way to learn. I'm at a big club with great players and a great manager. At my age or any age I don't think I could be at a better club than Arsenal.'

Very much a latecomer to Spain's World Cup plans, Fabregas played his part in his nation's typically disappointing effort in Germany this summer, yet he will have gained from the experience and returned to Arsenal with yet another tick entered onto his already impressive record.

His philosophies on his game are as simple as you might expect from a player whose sporting experiences to date have been almost entirely positive and he talks with the voice of a youngster when he describes how he copes with the pressures of living up to his status as a fully fledged star.

'I'm not the type to worry so much,' he says. 'If it goes badly, you wake up the next day and try something different. I want to play like I did in the street with my friends. That's when I am relaxed and at my best.

'Pressure is not a big issue for me because I have had it all my life. There was pressure to do well in the under-17s World Championship side with Spain. Then when I was 17, I wanted to be in the Arsenal first team. The next target was to play in the under-20 World Cup and I did it, and then I wanted to play in the World Cup and I did that too.

'All of it has taken hard work, but I know that if I work hard and think that I can do it then I can. I will not think it will be easy from here because to stay at the top, you need to get better and better.'

Protected so far by his tag of being a promising youngster, Wenger's decision to hand Fabregas the Arsenal No.4 shirt vacated by the aforementioned Vieira last summer confirmed he is now considered a key piece in a team that aims high as they enter a bold new world at their Emirates Stadium.

And while most have already suggested Arsenal's youthful promise will not be good enough to challenge the Chelsea juggernaut this time around, Wenger's protege is singing a different tune.

'It will be difficult to stop Chelsea, but not impossible,' he concludes. 'They have signed two more great players in Shevchenko and Ballack, but we are feeling more confident. Everyone at Arsenal is more mature and we take so much from what we did last time, getting the fourth place in the Premiership and reaching the Champions League Final. We know we are capable of catching Chelsea this year and we have to believe.'

After the year this boy has just dreamed up, Cesc Fabregas has every right to be believe nothing is impossible.