DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 26, 2010
Groups for the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League were finally drawn today in Nyon, Switzerland, setting up an all-British matchup for Maurice Edu and his Rangers teammates against English powerhouse Manchester United.
The Scottish champions were able to avoid the pitfalls of the qualification rounds which claimed their league rivals Celtic, and as a result were rewarded with an enticing pair of games against the three-time European champions in Group C.
The 200 mile distance separating these two teams are about as close to a derby as can be seen in the group stage, and will certainly be one of the most anticipated highlights for not only fans of both clubs but of European soccer as well.
Rangers will also be looking to atone for their dismal performance in last season's edition, where they finished dead last in a relatively straight-forward group with only two points and a negative-nine goal differential.
Fans of the Glasgow club will also remember the last time these two teams faced off in the competition during 2003, where Alex Ferguson's team effectively ended their hopes of reaching the knockout round with a pair of successive shut-out victories in matchdays three and four.
Rounding out Group C are Spanish third-place finishers Valencia, who are a considerably tamer beast than in previous years due to the summer sales of David Villa and David Silva, and Turkish champions Bursaspor, who are making their grand debut in Europe's top competition.
Schalke defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones finds his team in one of the simpler groups this season, winding up in Group B with French runners-up Lyon, Portuguese champions Benfica and Israeli winners Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Schalke's last foray into the group stage during Jones' first season with the team in 2007 was a memorable one, as they finished second in a tough group with Chelsea and Valencia, and ultimately progressed to the quarterfinals where they were knocked out by a relatively close 2-0 aggregate score at the hands of Barcelona.
They should like their chances to once again reach the final 16, as none of the teams in the group are considered among the elite dangers of Europe.
Lyon did make the semifinals last season only to be brutally thrashed by Germans Bayern, while Hapoel are making their group stage debut and Benfica are looking to end their four-year drought of missing the latter stages of the competition.
Should he eventually find his way onto the field for AC Milan, American defender Oguchi Onyewu will have the pleasure of competing in perhaps the competition's toughest collective of teams in Group G.
The Rossoneri were the unlucky top seed who had the pleasure to be drawn with legendary Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid, who were dropped down into the second pot of clubs in the competition due to their poor performances in the Champions League in recent years.
Onyewu has appeared to be a forgotten man for the seven-time winners of Europe's top honors as the season approaches, however should he prove himself worthy to new coach Massimiliano Allegri, he could also have the pleasure of facing Dutch runners-up Ajax Amsterdam and French Ligue 1 third-place team Auxerre.
The first matchday will commence on September 14-15, with specific dates and times for each game still to be determined.
Champions League group stage draw
Hapoel Tel Aviv