For the second year running the Champions League draw spared Manchester United tough opponents, with the Reds joined in group H by Portuguese side Braga, Turkish giants Galatasaray and Romanian club CFR Cluj.
While a trip to Istanbul is never to be taken lightly and Portuguese teams can prove a sterner test than expected when backed by a partisan crowd, group H definitely isn’t the “group of death” but, as United found out 12 months ago, even the easiest of groups can turn into a rocky path on the road to Wembley.
Sir Alex has stressed the need not to take the competition lightly: “After the experience of last year, we don’t want to make any stupid errors this time. We will play our strongest team to make sure we get through.”
The club best known as Sporting Clube de Portugal will compete in Europe’s most prestigious tournament for the second time in the last three seasons, hoping to go a step further this year after missing out on the round of 16 two years ago. A campaign that had started with Braga thumped 6-0 by Arsenal saw them enter the Europa League before finishing runners-up to fellow Portuguese club Porto in the final.
Qualified as: Braga finished third in the Portuguese League, then knocked Udinese out on penalties following a 2-2 draw on aggregate.
Record vs United: -
Star man: Rodrigo Josè Lima dos Santos.
The Brazilian striker looks to have found his feet with the Minho club following his arrival in 2010, netting 26 goals in all competitions last season (20 in the league) to fire his team to a third place finish. A mobile striker, the 29-year-old can play both as a centre-forward as well as a winger on either flank.
Ground: Estadio Municipal (capacity: 30,154)
The Istanbul giants won their first Super Lig title in four years in May and will make their first appearance in the Champions League since the 2008-09 season when they were knocked out in the third qualifying round by Steaua Bucuresti. Turkish clubs are renowned for their hostile crowds and they don’t come much more hostile than in Istanbul, as United found out in 1993 as the Reds were knocked out from the European Cup in what was later renamed the “Istanbul inferno”. ”I’ve never experienced anything like Galatasaray. Two hours before kick-off, we went out to have a look at the pitch and the stadium was packed! The chanting was brilliant: one side starts, then the other, then quiet, then all of them chanting! The players really enjoyed it. Before it was good, after it wasn’t!” explained Ryan Giggs.
Qualified as: Turkish champions
Record vs United:
1993-94 European Cup second round
- United – Galatasaray 3-3 (Bryan Robson 3′, Hakan (o.g.) 13′, Arif Erdem 16′, Kubilay Turkyilmaz 31′, 63,’Eric Cantona 81)
- Galatasaray – United 0-0 (Galatasaray through on away goals)
1994-95 European Cup group stage
- Galatasaray – United 0-0
- United – Galatasaray 4-0 (Simon Davies 3′, David Beckham 38′, Roy Keane 49′, Bülent Korkmaz 88′ (o.g.))
Star man: Milan Baros.
The former Liverpool, Villa and Portsmouth man has enjoyed a career revival since he made Istanbul his home four years ago. The former Czech Republic international scored eight league goals in 23 games last season helping Galatasaray to their first title in four years. Don’t expect him to receive a warm welcome at Old Trafford though.
Ground: Türk Telekom Arena (capacity 52,652). Inaugurated a year ago, the new arena replaced the old Ali Sami Yen Stadium
The Romanians were crowned national champions for the third time in four seasons in May, a feat they first achieved in 2007-08 when Cluj were the first team not from Bucharest to win the Romanian League for 17 years. A year later, on their Champions League debut, Cluj won 2-1 in Italy against AS Roma and drew 0-0 against Chelsea. The Romanians have reached the group stage of the Champions League every time they have won the league.
Qualified as: Cluj knocked out last season’s surprise package (as United know all too well) Basel winning 2-1 in Switzerland and 1-0 at home.
Record vs United: -
Star man: Modou Sougou
The Senegalese winger impressed last season scoring 10 goals in 33 league games in his first campaign for the club as Cluj regained the title and he’ll be pivotal to the Romanians’ hopes of successfully negotiating their way through the group this term.
Ground: Dr. Constantin Radulescu Stadium (capacity 23,500)
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