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Roma open with Romanian rookies

All roads lead to Rome and the Stadio Olimpico, which will host the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League final for the fourth time, and AS Roma would like nothing more than to be involved on their own ground.

Roma celebrate in front of their fans
Roma celebrate in front of their fans ©AFP

AS Roma have extra incentive to do well as a new UEFA Champions League campaign gets under way. Their first match pits them against Romanian debutants CFR 1907 Cluj and the Italian team would like nothing more than to still be involved in the competition's last match, with the final to be staged in their own Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday 27 May.

• Two successive quarter-final appearances have set a target for Roma to try and surpass, and they will be looking to start on a high. At least the draw for the group stage spared the Italian league runners-up another confrontation with Manchester United FC after the sides met four times last season. The English champions and reigning UEFA Champions League holders have dismissed Roma from the last eight in each of the last two years and also took four points off them in the 2007/08 group stage.

• Roma's confidence rocketed after beating Real Madrid CF home and away in last season's first knockout round, but United's 2-0 victory at the Stadio Olimpico in the quarter-final first leg was a bitter blow from which they could not recover and they lost the away leg by a single goal. It was the first defeat the Giallorossi had suffered in ten home games in the competition; before that, they had won six and drawn three of nine home games stretching back to the beginning of the 2006/07 campaign.

• The 1-0 Old Trafford defeat was at least a big improvement on the 7-1 drubbing they suffered on the same ground at the same stage 12 months previously – their heaviest defeat in UEFA club competition. Now mounting their sixth UEFA Champions League bid in eight years, the Italian club will be hoping to at least advance to the last four for the first time.

• Two of Roma's wins in the nine-match unbeaten home sequence were registered in the first match of a new campaign, and Luciano Spalletti's team will be looking to make it three on the trot as they launch their challenge in Group A. In 2007/08 they started with a 2-0 win at home to FC Dynamo Kyiv; 12 months earlier, Matchday 1 brought a 4-0 success against FC Shakhtar Donetsk.

• So, for the third season running, Roma begin with a game against opposition from eastern Europe at the Stadio Olimpico, which is set to play host to European football's biggest club fixture for the fourth time. The home side have faced a team from Romania just once before, in the 1985/86 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup first round, when they beat FC Steaua Bucureşti 1-0 in the Italian capital before a 0-0 away draw.

• It will be an occasion for CFR Cluj to remember as they mark their first appearance on Europe's grandest stage under their new Italian coach Maurizio Trombetta, who replaced Ioan Andone at the start of September and gets an immediate opportunity to cross swords with a club from his homeland. Trombetta will be hoping his team can reproduce the form that took them to their first ever Liga 1 triumph in May. They finished one point ahead of Steaua to become the first team from outside Bucharest to be crowned Romania's champions in 17 years, and they followed that success by claiming the Romanian Cup for the first time as well.

• It is the third time CFR Cluj have competed in Europe. In 2005, they took part in the UEFA Intertoto Cup and became the first Romanian side to reach the final stage after knocking out Athletic Club Bilbao and AS Saint-Etienne, however they went on to lose to RC Lens. They then fell 3-1 on aggregate to Anorthosis Famagusta FC – who are also making their UEFA Champions League debut in 2008/09 – in last season's UEFA Cup second qualifying round.

• The other Group A fixture pits last season's runners-up Chelsea FC against FC Girondins de Bordeaux.