The world's longest draw ceremony has drawn to a close, and now it's time to bring you previews of each of the Champions League groups. Without any further ado, here's Group C:
Favorites: Zenit St. Petersburg
Ok, they might not be anyone's favorites but my own, but Zenit are tough and this is...not the toughest group. Indisputably the best in Russia, Zenit made it to the knockout stages of the tournament last season. Of course, their group included APOEL (who took top) Braga, and Shakhtar Donetsk, but that's nothing really weaker than what they've been handed this time around. They were then eliminated by Benfica, 4-3 on aggregate. The squad has remained strong and steady into this season -- why shouldn't they emerge on top?
Going Through: AC Milan
Thrown into Pot One by virtue of past performance in Europe, the rossoneri are one of the weakest teams to be seeded at the top. Over the summer, Milan cleaned house, jettisoning themselves of players familiar to Champions League viewers: Clarence Seedorf, Mark Van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzaghi, and more. Paris Saint-Germain wooed away Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva -- but the real issue is that Milan have not come close to replacing their top scorer and one of the world's best defenders. Just one match has been played in Serie A, but the rossoneri managed to start their season by losing to Sampdoria, freshly promoted from Serie B. But the group is not tough and they'll likely make it out alive.
Europa League Bound: Málaga
Málaga couldn't even manage 3rd in one of the continent's most skewed leagues. They were 4th in La Liga last season, and currently sit 8th, although considering there've only been two matches, that's not much of an indicator of Málaga's success. Besides, the draw with Mallorca was most likely a result of being sandwiched between their Champions League qualifier with Panathinaikos, which Málaga won 2-0 on aggregate. But even if La Liga is skewed, Málaga are likely facing tougher competition than Anderlecht each week, which is why I'm putting them third. Let's be honest, though, it's just a guess.
Dead Last: Anderlecht
Anderlecht won their 31st Belgian Pro League trophy last season, and made it to the knockout round of the Europa League...uh, it's a bit hard to talk up this club (sorry, Anderlecht supporters). To find their way to the group stages, Anderlecht already smashed Ekranas, of Lithuania, and beat Greek club Limassol in the playoffs. The last time they made it this far in the Champions League was 2006-2007, when they finished bottom of their group, after eventual winners Milan, Lille, and AEK Athens. Not seeing a reason they'll do much better this time around, but I'm no expert on Belgian teams.
Kevin-Prince Boateng. Because who else? If the Milan midfielder can stay healthy, he'll make a certain impression on this group. And hopefully bring us some amazing goals -- it's not like there's anyone else in a rossoneri kit that will be providing them.
Lucas Biglia. Yes, our emerging star comes from the squad we say will end up dead last. Really, just throw the cards in the air and see how they land in Group C. The defensive midfielder has settled in well at Anderlecht, having been there since 2006, and has recently been rewarded with callups to the Argentine national squad.
Umm, any of them? This group doesn't lend itself well to amazing match-ups, but most of them should, at least, be interesting.