Luck of (or lack thereof) the Draw

Posted on: September 09, 2011

Luck of (or lack thereof) the Draw


September is here, and for soccer fans it means that the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League have completed their preliminary rounds and are ready for the group stages to commence in Europe.

For Italy, Serie A produced seven teams after the 2010-2011 season that qualified for European tournament play this year. AC Milan, Internazionale, and Napoli were headed directly into the Champions League group stages while Udinese had to play in the last playoff round in order to qualify. Lazio and Roma had a playoff round to play in order to qualify for the Europa League while Palermo had to get through two rounds to get into the group stage.

UEFA holds a draw for each qualifying stage of preliminary rounds to match up the teams in both Champions League and the Europa League.

For Udinese, it was clearly a lack of luck of the draw as they ended up with highly ranked Arsenal of the English Premier League as their playoff round opponent. Although the Friulan side failed to progress to the group stage, there was a silver lining as this was the last stage of qualifying for the Champions league so Udinese earned a berth directly into the Europa League group stage.

Palermo drew Swiss side Thun in its qualifying round and the match ended all tied up, 3-3, in aggregate score. However, since Thun scored more goals in Palermo (2) than Palermo did in Switzerland, Palermo bowed out on the away goals rule. In the final round of Europa league Lazio rolled over a lower ranked Macedonian side 9-1 in aggregate, while disappointed Roma fans saw their team stumble to a 2-1 loss to a Slovakian side and were bounced out of European play. So, all in all, five Italian teams have qualified in Europe, 3 in Champs league and 2 in Europa.

There are 32 teams in 8 groups of four in the Champions League. The top 2 teams advance to the head-to-head stage in 2012 while the 3rd place team in drawn into the next Europa League stage and the last place team is out of European play altogether. The draw is televised in Europe and is always full of pomp and circumstance with plenty of celebrity guests from the worlds of sport, entertainment, glamour and politics.

And, boy did the fireworks get started early in the Champions League group stage draw!  Group A instantly became the 'girone di ferro' (group of death) after it saw Napoli drawn with German Bundesliga powerhouse Bayern Munich, Spain's Villareal (with Italian national team star Giuseppe Rossi) and EPL side Manchester City, boasting none other than Roberto Mancini as coach and Italian national Mario Balotelli! Tough pairings indeed for Napoli, but delicious matches await soccer fans here nonetheless.

Group B sees Internazionale matched up with CSKA Moscow (Russia), Lille (France) and Trabzonspor (Turkey). You can never take anything for granted in Champs league, but nerazzurri fans should be content with this group after the Turkish champion Fenerbahce was banned due to match-fixing allegations and replaced by Trabzonspor. However, CSKA and Lille are no pushovers and Inter will be tested on the road.

On to Group H where more sparks flew as AC Milan ended up drawn against 2011 UEFA Champion Barcelona. Yes, Lionel Messi and friends will be visiting the San Siro again this year and I'm sure the rossoneri fans will be there to 'greet' them. BATE Borisov (Belarus) and Viktoria Plzen (Czech Rep.) round out the group but will find their tasks difficult in displacing the favoured Milan and Barcelona sides.

There are 48 teams in 12 groups of four in the Europa League. The top 2 teams in each group, together with the third place finishers of the Champs League groups, go through to the head-to-head rounds of the Europa league in 2012. The bottom 2 teams are out of Europe altogether.

Lazio was drawn with Sporting CP (Portugal), Zurich (Switzerland) and Vaslui (Romania) in Group D. The biancocelesti have their work cut out for them as Sporting CP and Zurich are of long soccer pedigree and will provide stiff competition - and its never easy to earn points in an away game in Romania.

After falling to Arsenal, Udinese, meanwhile, finds itself drawn with Atletico Madrid of Spain, French side Rennes, and Scottish powerhouse Celtic in Group I. Talk about luck of (or lack thereof) the draw? It seems if it wasn't for bad luck, the Friulan side wouldn't have any luck at all!

Tony Colalillo