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A group befitting the Champions League

31 August 2012

Once again, City find themselves draw into the toughest UEFA Champions League group. This time around it is Group D, consisting entirely of the defending champions from La Liga (Real Madrid), the Premier League (Manchester City), the Dutch Eredivisie (Ajax), and the Bundesliga (Borussia Dortmund).

We knew City would be facing a big-time name from Pot 1, so it was just a question of whether it was someone like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, or whether it would be a comparably lesser side like AC Milan or Porto. Similarly, there wasn’t that much reaction when Ajax were draw from Pot 3 for the group, as Juventus and PSG were the two sexy names in that pot. It was only when the German title holders were drawn from Pot 4 that people began talking about this group as the Group of Death.

Dortmund really are the wild card here. They were poor last season in their first Champions League action since 2002/03, finishing dead last in their group with just four points. Dortmund did go on to win the Bundesliga for the second season running, holding off European finalists Bayern Munich in the process. However, they lost playmaker Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United this summer. If Dortmund can overcome that loss and improve dramatically on last season’s European performances, this really could be a Group of Death.

What this means for City is that instead of having an 80- or 90-percent chance of advancing to the knockout stages from a group with a typical Pot 4 side, Roberto Mancini’s men probably have more like a 60- to 70-percent chance of advancement. Ajax aren’t pushovers, but it’s reasonably to expect much less naïveté from City this time around. They have a Champions League campaign under their belts and Premier League winners medals. I don’t expect to see crumbling performances like what we saw at the Allianz Arena or the Stadio San Paulo last year.

Many City fans actually have welcomed the draw. City and Real Madrid have never faced each other in a competitive match, and those two matches might be the sexiest Champions League group stage matches of all time. For traveling fans, it doesn’t get much better than this. Kicking things off at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, then a trip to Amsterdam, before the final match day at the Signal Iduna Park (formerly the Westfalenstadion) in Dortmund — one of the greatest football venues on the planet.

So while City have been drawn into two very difficult groups, frankly these are the sorts of opponents their fans dreamed of seeing their club go up against all those years when they were on the outside looking in at United playing all those glorious European ties. I join them in saying, “Bring it on.” We think our club can beat anyone on the planet, so we’re looking forward to those European nights.

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