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Published: Monday 9 May 2005, 8.20CET's A to Z countdown to the UEFA Champions League final continues with N. features

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Published: Monday 9 May 2005, 8.20CET

N is for...'s A to Z countdown to the UEFA Champions League final continues with N.

As Action's A to Z countdown to the UEFA Champions League final on 25 May continues, it is time for some great Ns.

As well as being a magnificent spectacle of European football, the Champions League also acts as a stage for new talent and those players billed as the next big thing. This season has been no different, with a host of young and previously unknown players taking their chance at the highest level.

FC Barcelona introduced three new names to look out for in the near future. Perhaps the most high-profile is 21-year-old Argentinian striker Maxi López, with his flowing blond locks and keen eye for goal. López's fellow countryman, midfielder Lionel Messi, impressed on his Champions League debut, as did the Catalan club's reserve-team starlet Joan Verdu.

FC Bayern München striker José Paolo Guerrero, a young Peruvian international, threw his name into the ring with a goal in his side's defeat by Chelsea FC, while AFC Ajax also showcased two new attacking talents in Romanian Nicolae Mitea and Dutch prospect Ryan Babel.

Brazilian forward Nilmar is only 21, but he registered four goals in the group stage as Olympique Lyonnais hit top gear, while Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal FC became the second-youngest goalscorer in Champions League history with his strike against Rosenborg BK.

Not one of the most well known strikers in the European game, former Blackburn Rovers FC forward Mike Newell is in the Champions League record books for scoring the fastest hat-trick when playing for the former English champions against Rosenborg in December 1995.

It had been a disappointing time in the first group stage for Blackburn who went into their final game without a win, but this was to be the day that they saved face with Newell turning in one of the best performances of his career. It took the striker just nine minutes to register his treble, the first coming after 31 minutes following Alan Shearer's opener.

There's no question that Kim Milton Nielsen is one of the world's top referees and when he is forced to retire his whistle at the end of the season he will hold the distinction of being the first referee to have officiated in 50 Champions League matches.

The highlight of his career was when he was appointed referee for last season's Champions League final between FC Porto and AS Monaco FC. Born in Copenhagen in 1960, Nielsen has reached the retirement age for referees but, having taken charge of some of the biggest matches in Europe, he will be sorely missed.

Last updated: 09/05/05 12.08CET