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Maribor win could propel Liverpool


Fan travels 6,000 miles to Runcorn

Toe Poke
By ESPN Staff

Dream UCL return to Fiorentina for Toni

Bayern Munich forward Luca Toni will return to his former club Fiorentina for their debut Champions League campaign after the clubs were drawn together in Group F on Thursday.

The Italy striker made no secret of his desire to play against his old club in the UEFA Cup last season, setting his sights on a dream final before both teams fell at the semi-final stage.

His wish has now been granted, though, and he will have marked November 5 in his diary as the day when he goes back to the Artemio Franchi.

The city of Florence will also be looking forward to welcoming the 2007 Serie A top goalscorer back.

'Meeting Bayern is destiny,' said Fiorentina president Andrea Della Valle.

'It is going to be a great evening for him and the city.

'It could have been worse, but it is going to be very hard all the same. It is a very tough group and we will just have to get out there and give it our best.'

That fixture catches the eye in what is arguably one of the toughest groups drawn with Lyon and Steaua Bucharest completing the pool.

'It is not an easy group at all for Fiorentina with the match against Toni, but that is how football is,' said Juventus sporting director Jean-Claude Blanc.

Juve's return to the Champions League saw them pitched against Real Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg and BATE Borisov.

'It is not easy, but then it is not easy for the other clubs either,' commented Blanc.

'There is the big classic against Real Madrid and that is a present for our fans.

'It will be a great evening and will bring a lot of pleasure after all the work we have done over the last few years.'

The Bianconeri are returning to the Champions League for the first time after being eliminated by Arsenal in the 2005 quarter-final and the subsequent fallout from the match-fixing scandal in Italy which saw them demoted to Serie B in 2006.

They bounced back to Serie A at the first attempt and qualified for this year's Champions League by virtue of a third-place finish last season and a 5-1 aggregate win over Artmedia Petrzalka in the qualifiers.

Italy's other representatives were all given interesting challenges with new Internazionale coach Jose Mourinho debuting at Panathinaikos.

They will also face Anorthosis Famagusta and Werder Bremen with the final group game at the Weser Stadion potentially a decisive game.

'If Bremen go through, we don't really care who comes through with us,' said Werder's director of sport Klaus Allofs to PA Sport.

'At first glance, it is not a spectacular group, but it is attractive and will be interesting to play against Inter and a Greek team again.'

Bremen may look to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich for inspiration after they won at the San Siro against Inter last season, although for Allofs, it is a case of anything Bayern can do, Werder can do better.

'We think we are capable of anything Bayern do and we have already proven it in the past, beating Chelsea, Real Madrid and doing well against Barcelona,' he added.

'We are in there and cannot say we have no hope against any team, but having said that, we will have to be at our best to beat Inter.

'I think it will be between Panathinaikos and Werder Bremen for second place.'

Roma and Chelsea will be favourites to come through Group A, which also includes Bordeaux and Cluj, while Arsenal will expect to make the second round too after drawing Porto, Fenerbahce and Dynamo Kiev in Group G.

Liverpool may have struggled into the group stages on Wednesday night, but they and Atletico Madrid are favourites to emerge from Group D, according to Pape Diouf, president of pool rivals Marseille.

'We have a very strong team this year, but we are not English or Spanish,' he explained.

'Of course I have the belief that we can do it, but you have also got to be realistic and I would say we only have a very small chance.'

In Group E, Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi comes up against his former club Manchester United.

Red Devils chief executive David Gill is looking forward to meeting him, although he knows the Spanish side will be their toughest opponents in a group which also includes Celtic and AaB.

'He will be welcomed back to Old Trafford very warmly,' he said. 'Just as long as he does not score.

'Villarreal are a great team and you don't get into the Champions League from the Spanish league unless you have a great team.

'We are looking forward to the competition starting in earnest in mid-September.'

Finally, 2006 winners Barcelona will have to see off Sporting Lisbon, Basle and Shakhtar Donetsk on their way into the knockout stage.

Atletico Madrid forward Sergio Aguero insists qualifying from the Champions League group stage is more important than his side's reunion with former captain Torres.

While the clash with Liverpool appears to be the stand-out clash, Aguero believes the game is about more than individual players and insists his side will only be thinking about winning.

'Atletico Madrid and Liverpool will play, not Fernando Torres and 'Kun' Aguero,' he told the club website.

'Both teams have great players, but they are teams.

'The important thing is for the competition to get started and for us to be able get through.

'Every game we'll play in this phase will be beautiful and the one at Anfield will be too.

'What we want is for everyone to see us and see that Atletico Madrid can be among the best.

'The group we've been given isn't easy, but we're going to do everything possible to get to the next stage.

'The games are there to be won and that's what we're going to do.'


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