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Barcelona to face Inter Milan in Champions League

BARCELONA will begin the defense of its Champions League title away to Inter Milan.

The group stage match on Sept. 16 should see Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o face their former clubs after the Spanish and Italian champions swapped strikers in the offseason, in a deal that also cost Barcelona €46 million (US$66 million). Eto'o helped Barca win the Champions League in 2006 and 2009, scoring in both finals.

The toughest group of eight drawn yesterday also has long trips to face Ukraine champion Dynamo Kiev and Russian club Rubin Kazan, making its debut in the competition.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said it was destined that his club should meet Inter.

"Samuel will face the return leg in the Camp Nou full of motivation but we also will be able to count on a player who will be specially motivated - Ibrahimovic on his return to San Siro," Laporta said.

Nine-time champion Real Madrid will play seven-time winner AC Milan in a meeting of the competition's two most storied clubs. The group also includes Marseille and FC Zurich.

Madrid bought Brazilian superstar Kaka from the Italians in the offseason, as part of its €250 million (US$357 million) spending spree that also lured Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for a world-record fee of 80 million pounds (US$130 million).

Former Real great Emilio Butragueno admitted his club has underachieved in failing to reach the quarterfinals for five straight years.

"Yes, of course. Every year Real Madrid tries to be the best. It's part of our history, so we have to do it," Butragueno said.

Marseille coach Didier Deschamps said his team would need to be at its best against Real and Milan.

"We will have to do something special against these clubs without forgetting about Zurich," said Deschamps, who captained Marseille when it beat Milan in the 1993 final, the only French victory in the competition's 54 editions.

Man United will play Bundesliga winner Wolfsburg, CSKA Moscow and Turkish champion Besiktas. The draw sends United back to play in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, where it won the 2008 final in a penalty shootout against Chelsea.

"These are difficult ties, especially the trips to Russia and Turkey," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "CSKA have developed strongly in the last few years, and games in Turkey are always difficult. We also know the quality that we're up against with Wolfsburg."

Chelsea was drawn with FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and APOEL Nicosia, a newcomer from Cyprus. Chelsea failed in its recent bid to buy Argentina striker Sergio Aguero from Atletico.

"There's not too much (long) travel. We managed to avoid the big ones," Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon said.

Four-time winner Bayern Munich and Juventus, a two-time champion, were grouped with French champion Bordeaux and Maccabi Haifa of Israel.

"The Champions League is getting stronger all the time," Bayern's general manager Uli Hoeness said. "The important thing is to survive the group stage."

Liverpool will begin its quest for a sixth European title against Lyon, Fiorentina and Hungary's Debreceni, the only national champion in the quartet.

"The important thing as always is that the traveling isn't too bad, we don't have too far to go for any of the games," Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said Liverpool was superior on paper with the rest equal.

"But we are humble because we know the Champions League is the highest level and we will need to be at our best to get through," Aulas said.

Arsenal avoided any big name opponents and long journeys when it was grouped with AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands, Greece's Olympiakos and Standard Liege of Belgium.

Sevilla will start favorite in its group against Rangers, Stuttgart and Romanian champion Unirea which had never played top-tier football until 2006.

Each team will play home-and-away against all three opponents, with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout rounds beginning in February.

The first group matches are played Sept. 15-16. The final is scheduled for May 22 in Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

The 32 clubs will share at least €750 million (US$1.07 billion) in prize money, as UEFA raised €1.09 billion (US$1.56 billion) in total revenues from television and marketing deals.

Each gets a €7.1 million (US$10.1 million) participation fee plus bonuses based on results. The final is worth an extra €9 million to the winner and €5.2 million to the runner-up.


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