Emilio Butragueño has warned Real Madrid CF that the UEFA Champions League holders must be aware of the FC Basel factor as they attempt to negotiate the second group stage.
Winners nine times
The illustrious Spanish club, nine-times winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup, were the first team out of the hat in today's draw and learned their opponents would be old foes AC Milan, German champions BV Borussia Dortmund and Russian outsiders FC Lokomotiv Moskva.
The section would appear to offer Madrid a relatively comfortable passage into the quarter-finals but Butragueño, a revered former striker at the Santiago Bernabéu and now Madrid's team director, says Los Merengues need only look at the "example of Liverpool [FC] and [FC] Bayern München" to ward off complacency.
'Very even' matches
Bayern fell at the first hurdle in a tough pool containing Milan, RC Deportivo La Coruña and RC Lens, but Liverpool dropped into the UEFA Cup after failing to beat Basel either at Anfield or in Switzerland, the latter when progression depended on it. "I am sure that all the matches are going to be very even," Butragueño said. "We have to be very careful but I think we can qualify. This is football though and anything can happen."
Milan were in sizzling form for much of the first group stage, winning their opening four matches to qualify before defeats against Lens and Deportivo. Butragueño acknowledged the Italian side possess "great players" and tipped them as one of the "contenders for the title". Yet it is not a crown that Madrid are not keen to relinquish, Butragueño saying: "We understand it is not going to be easy to win again but that is our goal."
The defending champions' mettle will be tested in the opening fixture as they travel to the San Siro for a game which could go a long way towards deciding eventual section supremacy. The Milan coach Carlo Ancellotti called Group C "prestigious" and called on his team "to play the winning football of three weeks ago".
Dortmund's Russian trip
With the two group favourites meeting on Matchday Seven, there will be an opportunity for Dortmund and Lokomotiv to post some points. A trip to the Russian capital on what promises to be a bitterly-cold night would not seem the ideal way to begin a campaign to reach the last eight but Dortmund's sporting manager Michael Zorc oozed confidence. "We're the German champions and we must not underestimate ourselves," he said.
Dortmund proved themselves a club of genuine European class when lifting this trophy in 1997, defeating Juventus FC 3-1 in the final, and earned a place in last season's UEFA Cup final by trouncing Milan 4-0 in the second leg of their semi-final to win 5-3 on aggregate. Lars Ricken, a scorer against Juve, is relishing renewing old rivalries. "
I think it's a wonderful draw," he said. "To play against such top teams is great."
Victory against Madrid
The Lokomotiv camp were not so enthralled. "It is hard to say whether we are happy about the draw or not," said technical director Khasanbi Bidjiev. "But I think we can challenge the other teams for a quarter-final place. Our future pretty much depends on our first game." Although outsiders, Lokomotiv defeated Madrid 2-0 in the first group stage in 2001 and Bidjiev is hoping for another shock: "We could surprise Real one more time." As Basel have proved this season, anything is possible is at this level.
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