HAPPY TO BE HERE:
32. APOEL: Cypriot team with a bevy of Brazilian stars to call upon. In their CL debut, in 2009-10, they beat Partizan Belgrade and FC Copenhagen, and then got three draws and three one-goal losses, in six tough matches against Porto, Atletico Madrid, and Chelsea.
31. Dinamo Zagreb: Their continued dominance of the Croatian league never helps them in the Champions League group stage. Expect to see them back next year, however.
The money they get from the Champions League puts them farther ahead of their domestic opponents, which gets them qualification into the next years Champions League. The better, deeper team, and less competitive league, lets them do well enough in the Champions League to get more money, and more of an advantage in the Croatian league, but the lack of competitive games, always means a disappointing performance in Europe.
They may get a couple points this year, with home games against Lyon and Ajax.
30. Viktoria Plzen: They got a terrible draw, but have to be taken seriously after causing the shock of the playoffs by beating Rosenborg and Danish giants Copenhagen. Their attacking play will cause exciting games, and lopsided scores.
29. BATE Borisov: In the same group as Plzen, they will be more competitive against Barcelona and Milan, because of an excellent youth academy, and more defensive game plan. They won’t finish second though, and may have trouble beating Plzen in the two games that really matter.
28. Otelul Galati: Look for the latest winners of the competitive Romanian league to get a few surprise results, if the other Group C teams are complacent.
27. Olympiakos: Their dominance of the Greek league just goes to show how far behind the rest of Europe the Greeks are. The Greek economic crisis has further hurt all the teams in the league. Any win would be a surprise, with Arsenal, Marseille, and Borussia Dortmund the opponents.
26. Trabzonspor: Don’t expect the usual competitive Turkish performance, but Trabzonspor might do better than expected. A 3-1 loss on aggregate to Benfica is nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, they have perfected the counter-attack, as the phrase “one Trabzonspor goal is three points” shows.
THE MIDDLE TIER:
25. Genk: Very, very hard to beat at home, winning the Belgian league was no fluke. They may not get the points, and will finish fourth in their group, but they should go out of this Champions League with their reputation enhanced.
24. CSKA Moscow: With World Cup star Keisuke Honda, starlet Alan Dzagoev, prolific strikers Seydou Doumbia and Vagner Love, and Russia’s starting goalkeeper and centre-back pair, they have a very interseting nucleus to build on.
Along with the over-reliance on Vagner Love, the end of the Russian league season will take it’s toll: If CSKA advences to the knockout stage, they probably won’t win the league, while if they win the league, it will probably be because they finished fourth in Group B.
23. Ajax: They aren’t the Ajax team of old, but the heavily-Dutch league winners keep methodically improving, buying the Eridivisie’s best player Theo Janssen this summer. They have no major weaknesses, and a very effective 4-3-3 formation.
22. Basel: They should have advanced to the knockout rounds last season, beating Roma 3-1, dominating the rematch, but losing 3-2, and getting shocked by CFR Cluj. Still, they are being consistently overlooked this year.
21. Lyon: Every team in France, except Lille, has disappointed recently, and Lyon have been perhaps the biggest underachiever.
They got drawn with Real Madrid- again!- but the rest of the group shaped up very well for them, meaning they have to advance. They seem to have Real’s number, as well. They won’t be expected to beat any group winner in the Round of 16.
20. Villarreal: Winning the Europa League should be their goal, as they are clearly the worst team in the Group of Death. If you are looking for entertainment, their clash with Napoli might be the game to watch.
19. Zenit St. Petersburg: They have a very good chance of advancing, with the big match-up with Shakhtar likely the key games. But the eastern European teams might finish one-two, with FC Porto surely not relishing the long trips to the Donbass Arena, and the intimidating Petrovsky Stadium.