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Italy's finest back in spotlight

Published: Monday 25 November 2002, 23.49CET
Italian clubs are back in the UEFA Champions League spotlight with AC Milan and Juventus FC out to prove a point as the second group stage begins.

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Published: Monday 25 November 2002, 23.49CET

Italy's finest back in spotlight

Italian clubs are back in the UEFA Champions League spotlight with AC Milan and Juventus FC out to prove a point as the second group stage begins.

For so long the standard-bearers in European football, Italian clubs have the opportunity to underline that talk of their demise was premature when the UEFA Champions League second group stage gets under way on Tuesday.

Final say
If there was a surfeit of Italian participants in the final of European football's premier club competition between 1989 and 1998 - only the 1991 meeting of FK Crvena Zvezda and Olympique de Marseille did not feature a representative from the world of Calcio - the absence of the Serie A heavyweights from the latter stages has been conspicuous in recent times.

Power shift
The balance of power has shifted across the Mediterranean, with Spain's Primera División now the preferred destination for many of the world's leading talents. And there is no loftier stage than the Santiago Bernabéu, home to Real Madrid CF - three-times winners of the competition in the past five years and the defending champions.

Captivating contest
None the less, the well-oiled Madrid machine has shown signs of leakage. After handsome victories over AS Roma and KRC Genk on Matchdays 1 and 2, Madrid subsequently collected just three further points from four matches and face a stern examination in the San Siro against Milan in their opening Group C contest.

Milan top
Champions of Europe on 14 occasions between them and among the favourites this time, a win for either side would see their odds diminish further. Yet fluid football has eluded Madrid domestically this season and they are fourth following a weekend stalemate with FC Barcelona. There are no such concerns for Milan, who lead Serie A on goal difference from Juventus after toppling Internazionale FC on Saturday.

Previous meetings
Madrid edged their early meetings with Milan in the 1950s, winning their opening contest in April 1956 and accounting for the Rossoneri in the 1958 European Champions Clubs' Cup final. Recent history, though, favours Milan, with the Italian side eliminating the Merengues in 1989/90 and 1990/91.

No win in 32 years
Another Latin affair sees Juventus visit Group D rivals RC Deportivo La Coruña in Spain, a country where they are without a win in 32 years. Recent Spanish hegemony over their Italian counterparts is no better illustrated than by meetings between these two clubs. Juventus have not won any of their four encounters and were eliminated by the Galicians in each of the last two campaigns.

Jeckyll and Hyde United
In the same section, Depor's own conquerors last season, Manchester United FC, will be looking for a winning start away to the tournament's surprise package, FC Basel. The Swiss challengers have already claimed one notable English scalp, Liverpool FC, and will be hoping United display the sort of charity which saw them concede three goals at home to Newcastle United FC on Saturday, rather than recreate the attacking ruthlessness that brought them five.

Maiden appearance
Another team featuring at this stage for the first time, FC Lokomotiv Moskva, will hope to catch BV Borussia Dortmund cold in sub-zero Russian temperatures. Both clubs finished as runner-up in their respective first stage groups - a placing which would no doubt appease either in a pool containing Madrid and Milan.

Last updated: 27/11/02 9.54CET

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