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Champions League 2007/8, Group A

Group A: Besiktas | FC Porto | Liverpool | Marseille
Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

BESIKTAS (Turkish league runners-up)


Champions League pedigree: Group stage: 1997/98, 2000/01, 2003/04

THE LOWDOW: Victors over FC Zurich in the third qualifying round, the Black Eagles are often thought of as Istanbul's third team behind Galatasaray and Fenerbahce. Despite that, ambition still seeps from every pore here and everyone connected with the club has their eyes focused on the prize of reaching the sudden-death phase for the first-time ever.

There can be no doubting that they will draw optimism from their last participation in the competition in 2003/04 when they won at Chelsea and drew in Rome against Lazio, only missing out on further progress by a single point.

THE TECHNICAL AREA: After parting company from French boss Jean Tigana towards the end of last season, Besiktas turned to ex-Samsunspor and Kayserispor coach Ertugrul Saglam, who once starred in attack for the Black Eagles and appeared for Turkey at Euro '96.

Saglam, considered by many to be the heir apparent to national team manager Fatih Terim, often plumps for a 4-3-1-2 system, with the Argentine Matias Delgado prompting on the shoulder of the Brazilian front running duo of Bobo and Nobre. A high energy, aggressive style is the order of the day.

THE WOW FACTOR: Their coach insists on a plentiful supply of balls into the box and he has a number of crossing specialists, especially adventurous right-back Serdar Kurtulus, fast-improving midfielder Serdar Ozkan, Mehmet Yozgatli and Tello. The strikers cannot complain of poor service here.

The natural goal scoring ability of striker Bobo, who joined from Sao Paulo outfit Corinthians mid-way through the 2005/06 season. The ex-Brazilian Under-20 international was persuaded to come to Turkey by former Brazil and Besiktas centre-back Antonio Zago and he has been a big hit so far.

Add to that the volcanic atmosphere at their Inonu Stadoum, which is bound to galvanise the home favourites, and Besiktas have a recipe that could see them emerge as Champions League giant killers.

THE BIG BUY: As usual, Besiktas were very active in the transfer market in the off-season, notably signing Chilean left-sided wing-back Rodrigo Tello from Sporting Lisbon, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Edouard Cisse, Fenerbahce wide-man Mehmet Yozgatli and River Plate striker Federico Higuain, whose younger brother Gonzalo plays up front for Real Madrid.

Much-underrated French holding midfielder Cisse should prove a huge asset following his move from PSG. Tactically aware, strong in the tackle, a thoughtful passer and full of drive, he was a member of the Monaco side that lost to FC Porto in the 2004 Champions League Final.

THE TENDER SPOT: While their defenders could never be accused of lacking heart and commitment, this unit has a tendency to lapses in concentration and below average positional play. With a view to strengthening the heart of their rearguard, they brought in Senegalese international Lamine Diatta (ex-Saint-Etienne), but Ligue 1 observers might say the 32-year-old was on the down slope of his career. One player beyond reproach is centre-back Ibrahim Toraman.

Creator in chief Matias Delgado has bags of flair and certainly knows where the goal is, but he is far too inconsistent. Besiktas can only hope his off nights are not European ones as they need him firing when the likes of Liverpool and Porto come to town.

HOT GOSSIP: Coach Ertugrul Saglam is faced with the dilemma of which playmaker to plump for. Delgado means intermittent flashes of genius. The Brazilian Ricardinho is more steady but less likely to be a match winner.

Saglam knows his own mind and is not shy when expressing his views. Several times this summer, club management agreed terms with new players, only for him to veto the deals.

IDEAL LINE UP: Arikan, Uzulmez, Diatta, Toraman, Kurtulus, Cisse, Tello, Ozkan, Delgado, Nobre, Bobo

THE VERDICT: They could be a good bet for the odd surprise result and their group stage draw has been relatively kind, but they will still struggle to make the knock-out phase.


FC PORTO (Portuguese champions)


Champions League pedigree: European champions 1987, 2004

THE LOW DOWN: Retaining the Portuguese league crown should provide the ideal platform for Porto to add to their reputation as the Champions League giant killers in the months ahead.

Always a tough nut to crack at their imposing Estadio do Dragao home, Porto may not be the force coach Jose Mourinho moulded them into a few years back, but their experience at the highest level of European competition and pleasing knack of defying the odds makes them a threat again.

TECHNICAL AREA: Jesualdo Ferreira is viewed as something of a cautious coach, but his master plan reaped great domestic rewards last season and he is confident of success in the Champions League. 'Porto's traditions in the Champions League means our opponents will always respect us,' he says. 'We have to make sure we don't disappoint them.'

Ferreira made his name at Braga, where his shrewd tactical knowledge earned him the nick-name of 'The Professor'. His tactics last season with Porto were anything but complicated as they seemed to evolve around getting the ball to Ricardo Quaresma and letting him do his stuff.

WOW FACTOR: Quaresma is a magician who has the ability to test the best of defenders and Porto will look to their star turn to win them games in the Champions League. A potent danger down the flank and always a capable of converting from free-kicks around the box, this hero has been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and if he sparkles as much as the Manchester United star, Ferreira's men are in for a thrilling season.

'I know there was some talk about me leaving Porto during the summer, but my dream is to be a European champion with this club,' says Quaresma, who was linked with Bayern Munich during the off-season. 'Porto were champions in 2004, so let's try again.'

The theory goes that Ferreira will try to add more flair to his team to side this season. Porto fans are hoping the glut of skilful South American performers in their side this season will bring a touch of fantasy to their outlook.

THE BIG BUY: Porto dipped into the South American transfer market to lure Argentine pair midfielder Mariano Gonzalez and striker Ernesto Farias to Portugal. Both may take time to settle, but they arrive with big reputations.

Argentine international Farias is particularly of interest as he was linked with a host of European clubs after he opted to leave River Plate. 'This is a very important club and their reputation stretched around the world,' he says. 'The chance to play in the Champions League was the big reason why I wanted to sign for Porto.'

Benni McCarthy's goals were missed last season, so Farias could be the ideal replacement and the same could be said of Moroccan hit-man Tarik Sektioui, who has returned to Porto after a spell out on loan.

THE TENDER SPOT: Quaresma is a little too important to Porto and they don't really have a plan B if their talisman is sidelined for an extended period.

In addition, they will miss the midfield influence of talented Brazilian Anderson after his summer move to Manchester United, while Pepe's departure to Real Madrid means their defensive cover is a little weak.

Finally, their form on the road is not always all it could be and they will need to banish their away day blues if they are to make a splash in the Champions League once again.

HOT GOSSIP: Lucho Gonzalez was linked with a £10m move to English side Everton during the summer, but this Argentine midfielder is determined to enhance his growing reputation still further by staying at Porto for another season at least.

It's no surprise that Gonzalez's brand of hard working midfield energy has caught the eye as he has been compared to Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.

IDEAL LINE-UP: Helton, Bosingwa, Fucile, Bruno Alves, Emanuel, Quaresma, L Gonzalez, Assuncao, M Gonzalez, Lopez, Sektioui

THE VERDICT: They never strike you as major contenders in the Champions League, but a place in the latter stages should be possible if they win their home games.


LIVERPOOL (3rd place in English league)


Champions League pedigree: European Champions 1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005

THE LOW DOWN: Two appearances in Champions League finals inside three years represents a fine return for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, but he seems to have set his sights of domestic glory this season.

With his prime target being the Reds first English league title in 18 years, Champions League ambitions may not be a priority, but this club have just cannot help themselves when a big European night rolls around. Liverpool always feel they have a right to be challenging for the trophy they have won five times before and their desire to be back in the Final again come May will be as strong as ever.

TECHNICAL AREA: Benitez is under big pressure to find a solution to Liverpool's Premier League failings and his determination to build a squad with genuine depth may end up serving him well when he turns his attention to claiming another Champions League crown.

A 4-4-2 man, he has the option to switch to a more fluid 4-3-3 or a steady 4-5-1 with the sort of forwards he now has on his books. Both Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres lead the line superbly and combine the work rate with the skill required to keep defences alert on the occasions when Liverpool want to play tight away from home. Their solid defence has also excelled in Europe over recent seasons.

WOW FACTOR: Torres' big-money arrival from Atletico Madrid gives Liverpool an attacking verve they may have been lacking last season. Capable of bursting past defenders and scoring goals when they matter most, the Spaniard looks set to shine in England and thereby succeed where compatriot Fernando Morientes failed.

The Reds attacking back-up also makes impressive reading. The towering Peter Crouch is a great option to have on the bench, while summer signings Andriy Voronin and the exciting Ryan Babel are showing signs that they will sparkle. Combining a solid defence with some real flair up front will make Liverpool an exciting prospect.

THE BIG BUY: Benitez spent big in the transfer market this summer, but he is most satisfied with his club record breaking deal to snap up compatriot Torres. 'He is a player who gives us so many more options,' claims the Spaniard. 'Fernando has great quality on the ball and in the air and he is not just a player who scores goals. He makes so many for others as well.'

Plenty of eyes will also focus on the progress of 20-year-old Babel, who arrived in a £13.5m deal with Ajax. Capable of playing up front or in a wide berth, he needs to only fulfil some of his sparkling potential to emerge as a real star.

THE TENDER SPOT: The heart of Liverpool's defence looks strong so long as Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger stay fit, but the former is already struggling to make the first few games of the Champions League with a rib injury and it is not just his ability on the field that is missed when he is absent.

Along with skipper Steven Gerrard, Carragher is the heartbeat of this Liverpool team and time will tell whether Benitez's side could win a major trophy if either were sidelined long term.

HOT GOSSIP: The relationship between skipper Gerrard and manager Benitez has long been strained and while the coach seems ready to give his talisman the central midfield role he craves, you wonder what will happen if he has a change of mind and forces him into the wide right role he loathes once again.

The other question mark hangs over the Liverpool strike-force, who may take time to settle into an ideal formation. Getting the best out of Torres, Kuyt, Crouch, Voronin and Babel all at once will not be easy and high-profile footballers who don't play rarely have a positive impact on a dressing room.

IDEAL LINE-UP: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa, Babel, Alonso, Gerrard, Pennant, Torres, Kuyt

THE VERDICT: With their eyes trained on the Premier League title, don't be surprised to see Liverpool's Champions League form suffering in 2007/08.


Olympique Marseille (2nd in French League)

Champions League pedigree: Winners: 1993, runners-up: 1991

THE LOW DOWN: Back in the Champions League for the first time in four years, OM will be determined to do much better than they did in their last outing, when a side featuring a certain Didier Drogba managed only one win in the group stages.

Chairman Pape Diouf says he will be happy if his team qualify for the Champions League two seasons out of three. However, their supporters expect much more, as they remember the days in the early 1990s when the likes of Jean-Pierre Papin, Chris Waddle and Rudi Voller ruled supreme, so they demand a spot in the last-16 at the very least.

THE TECHNICAL AREA: In his second year as head coach, Albert Emon came close to losing his job in the off-season, so it was no surprise to see him ousted a month into the new campaign. Swede Sven Goran Eriksson was said to be close to taking over at Marseille in June, but Eric Gerets is the man who has claimed the job in the end.

A tough task master, Gerets looks certain to rely Djibril Cisse to blast his side into the second phase of the Champions League and will be hoping Dutchman Boudewijn Zenden finds his feet after a less than convincing two years at Liverpool.

WOW FACTOR: Brilliant young playmaker Samir Nasri has been dubbed the 'new Zidane' and the comparison is no exaggeration, as this 20-year-old plays with the same vision and virtuosity as the great 'Zizou'. He has already established himself in the full French side thanks to some outstanding displays at the back-end of last season and could be a Champions League star this season.

Also on Marseille's side is the incredible noise created by their fans as on European nights, the Stade Velodrome is one of the most intimidating grounds on the continent. A bubbling cauldron of passion, colour and noise, experienced professionals have been known to go to pieces in the face of such unconcealed hostility.

THE BIG BUY: With outstanding wide-man Franck Ribery heading for Bayern Munich, OM moved to fill the substantial gap with Sochaux's highly promising Algerian attacking midfielder Karim Ziani, who was also wanted by Sevilla, Valencia and Stuttgart.

A mesmeric dribbler and never short of invention, he can be employed on either flank or through the middle. He is also a composed finisher and a free-kick expert.

THE TENDER SPOT: Since arriving in the Provencal city a year ago from Liverpool, star striker Djibril Cisse has yet to fire on a consistent basis. Two broken legs in recent years seem to have taken their toll on him, while the service he has been receiving has been patchy at best. Not known for his diplomacy, Cisse's frustrated body language speaks volumes. He is at his most potent when galloping onto a long ball, yet the first instinct of the Marseille midfield is for a slow, intricate build-up.

Marseille were rocked when first-choice keeper Cedric Carasso tore an Achilles tendon during a training session early this term. He faces six months on the sidelines and will be replaced by French Under 21 cap Steve Mandanda, a summer signing from Le Havre.

HOT GOSSIP: Pape Diouf has revealed that at the time of the proposed takeover by Canadian businessmen Jack Kachkar in the summer, OM compiled a shopping list including Michael Owen, Carlos Tevez and Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o.

Djibril Cisse played a significant part in the arrival on the Mediterranean coast of Bolo Zenden, selling the merits of OM to his ex-Liverpool team mate. Marseille were also interested in French international attackers Ludovic Giuly (Barcelona) and Sylvain Wiltord (Lyon), only for high wage demands to blow the would-be deals out of the water.

IDEAL LINE UP: Mandanda, Taiwo, Givet, Rodriguez, Faty, Cana, Cheyrou, Zenden, Nasri, Ziani, Cisse

THE VERDICT: So long as Gerets settles into his task quickly, they will battle it out with FC Porto for a place in the knock-out stages.


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