For Bayern versus Roma, read Germany against Italy
Every team in the Champions League carries some national baggage with them every time their players take the field in club football's greatest competition. AC Milan fans may resent the fact that Inter Milan are the title-holders in a competition they like to regard as more theirs than any other Italian team's, but know it is in every Serie A club's interest that as many of their compatriots do as well as possible.
Uefa co-efficients, you see, are more important than local enmities. Which is why, when Bayern Munich reached a European Cup final last May, the club published an open letter to all Bundesliga fans asking for their support. Bayern's success, the Bavarians pointed out, meant a likely extra place at Europe's high table for a German team as of 2011. So it is. Next summer, four German sides will be eligible - just as four English and Spanish ones are - for the Champions League, and only three from Italy.
Italy versus Germany is the Champion's League's most intriguing duel. Though Inter are the defending champions, Bayern only the silver-medallists, Serie A has slipped a crucial notch behind the Bundesliga in Uefa's rankings. The first test of how just that assessment might be took place last month. Sampdoria, of Italy, met Werder Bremen in the play-offs for the group phase, the Germans edging through only in extra time of the second leg.
A further instalment follows in a fortnight when Bremen meet Inter, and tonight the second part of this little trilogy opens at the Allianz Arena with Bayern versus Roma. Both aspire to domestic league championships this season; yet neither sit in the top half of their divisions. Bayern have taken one point from their last two Bundesliga matches; Roma have the same form in Serie A, and shipped five goals at Cagliari at the weekend.
"Maybe that was the kick up the backside the team needed," Claudio Ranieri, the Roma coach, told reporters. Ranieri has injuries to cope with, too. Mirko Vucinic, Philippe Mexes and Rodrigo Taddei have been left out of the squad, although Adriano, the Brazilian striker, could make his first-team bow. Bayern also have important absentees, notably in wide positions. Arjen Robben is injured, while Franck Ribery, sent off in last season's semi-final against Lyon, serves the second game of his suspension. Mark van Bommel has problems with his right knee though the midfielder is determined to participate.
"We need to get off to a good start," the Dutchman told reporters, "because this is tough group, and whoever says otherwise is mistaken." firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: September 15, 2010 04:00 AM