Reds hot favourites in tough draw, says Gerets

MARSEILLE coach Eric Gerets believes Champions League Group D is wide open after seeing his team given one of hardest draws possible.

OM, who beat Norwegian champions Brann Bergen 3-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round to reach the pool stages, were pitched with Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and PSV Eindhoven in yesterday’s draw in Monaco.

It looks, on paper at least, one of the toughest of the eight groups and Gerets admits there will be some celebration if the Mediterranean side are able to advance to the knockout stages.

“From the outset, Liverpool are favourites in the pool,” said the Belgian, whose side were in the same Champions League group as Rafael Benitez’s men last season.

“But I think Atletico are just as strong as Liverpool. And Eindhoven are going to easily win their league so we mustn’t underestimate this team either. If we qualify, we will certainly be euphoric and we are going to enjoy ourselves.”

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry is relishing the prospect of facing Spanish club Atletico.

Parry is expecting a special atmosphere for the matches, which will see Reds frontman Fernando Torres and Atletico duo Luis Garcia and Florent Sinama Pongolle all face their former teams.

“With our Spanish contingent that will be a couple of very big games,” Parry said. “They are all fairly close by so there are no challenging trips.”

Real Madrid sporting director Predrag Mijatovic, who scored the winning goal when Madrid beat Juventus in the 1998 Champions League final, believes his side have an advantage after having been drawn in what looks likes the toughest group.

As well as Juventus, the Spanish champions face UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg and Belorussian side BATE Borisov, but Mijatovic believes his side will be the most feared in the group.

“To win the Champions League you’ve got to beat the best,” he said. “Having a tough group is better to get started strongly and gear up better for the competition.”

Juve coach Claudio Ranieri believes the group will be “complicated for all involved”. While Madrid will seemingly be Juve’s toughest test, Ranieri warned of the dangers posed by Zenit and the Belorussians.

“They (Zenit) have important players, some of whom were major protagonists during the recent European Championships, and they’ve recently spent €30m to buy a Portuguese player (Danny) recently voted the best player in Russia,” Ranieri said.

Chelsea, who lost to Man United in the final in Moscow, have been paired with Roma, Bordeaux and the Romanians of Cluj.

Club secretary David Bernard said: “I’m not aware of them at all but any team that reaches the group stages of the Champions League deserves respect so we won’t underestimate them.

“I think the boys are focused on the Champions League. They are completely focused on reaching the final again this year.”

Arsenal face a couple of long trips to Turkey and Ukraine when they play Fenerbahce and Dynamo Kiev. Porto make up the group.

Club director Danny Fiszman said: “One of the big issues for Arsene (Wenger) is the distances we have to travel. They are tough games with very difficult stadia to play in.

“They will be stiff competition, the results at home will be decisive.”

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