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Group goal spree underlines rise in quality

UEFA's General Secretary Gianni Infantino saw enough evidence in a group stage that yielded 254 goals to proclaim that the European club game is going from strength to strength.

Gianni Infantino and Paul Breitner look forward to a bumper knockout stage in the spring
Gianni Infantino and Paul Breitner look forward to a bumper knockout stage in the spring ©UEFA.com

With a mouthwatering knockout phase around the corner, the UEFA Champions League continues to provide premium value in highlighting the strength of European club football.

Speaking at the round of 16 draw at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon on Friday, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said that the UEFA Champions League showcased the best of the European club game. "Yet again the Champions League group stage has provided football fans around the globe with plenty of top action, some great moments and lots and lots of goals," he reflected.

"In fact, a total of 254 goals were scored in this season's group matches," he added, "and there were also a number of firsts. This is the first time FC Basel 1893 have reached the knockout stage although they reached the second group stage in the 2002/03 season. Besides that, SSC Napoli, FC Zenit St Petersburg and APOEL FC – the first Cypriot representatives to have come so far – are also all in uncharted territory."

Mr Infantino also congratulated FC Barcelona, the UEFA Champions League title holders, on reaching Sunday's FIFA Club World Cup final in Japan.

"European club football continues to go from strength to strength," he said, "and you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last time a European club did not win the final of the FIFA Club World Cup."

The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League final will be played at the Fußball Arena München in Munich, and one of the German city's football great, former FC Bayern München and Germany midfielder Paul Breitner, was present in Nyon to help make the draw.

Munich is hosting the final for a fourth time – but this will be the first at the Fußball Arena München – and Breitner explained that the old Olympiastadion, built for the 1972 Olympics, was not strictly a football venue. "We had to build a new stadium for the fans who wanted to be closer to the pitch and teams," he said, "and to feel more comfort. The result was this outstanding arena, and we are proud we can hold the final there on 19 May."