Ibra braced for Inter ire as Barca begin CL defence
Defending champions Barcelona travel to Inter Milan in Wednesday's stand-out Champions League fixture, with Barca's Zlatan Ibrahimovic set for a swift reunion with the club he left in the summer.sports Updated: Sep 15, 2009 10:55 IST
Defending champions Barcelona travel to Inter Milan in Wednesday's stand-out Champions League fixture, with Barca's Zlatan Ibrahimovic set for a swift reunion with the club he left in the summer.
The Swedish striker's switch to the Nou Camp was one of the sensations of the close-season transfer window, after Barca paid an eye-watering 46 million euros to secure his signature and threw Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto'o into the bargain as well.
Both men have made goalscoring starts to life at their new clubs but Ibrahimovic provoked the ire of his former employers by suggesting that he was the main reason for the three Serie A crowns they won during his time at the San Siro.
Inter's Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari was quick to remind his former team-mate that there was more to Inter's title successes than Ibrahimovic's goals.
"Ibra says Barcelona are stronger than Inter, but I think we are stronger than they are," said Muntari.
"Why? Because I play for Inter. One of those players who ran for Ibrahimovic, the man who thinks he won it all by himself."
Ibrahimovic, though, says he will not be perturbed by the reaction of the crowd - or his ex-colleagues - when he returns to his old stomping ground.
"I'm not interested in how the crowd reacts, it is not important," said the former Juventus and Ajax man.
"It will be an enjoyable game, also because of the atmosphere that will be created. I had a good relationship with my team-mates and I'll greet them with pleasure. I have nothing against them. After all, you don't easily forget three Scudetti in three years."
With Barca and Inter set to fight it out for superiority in Group F, the pressure will be on Dynamo Kiev and Russian Champions League debutants Rubin Kazan to get off to a good start when they meet in the Ukrainian capital.
Another club making their Champions League group-stage bow on Wednesday will be Hungarian champions Debrecen, who face a baptism of fire at five-time winners Liverpool.
The Merseysiders have endured a stuttering start to their Premier League campaign, losing two of their opening five matches, and manager Rafael Benitez says they must hit the ground running in Europe.
"We lost our first game a couple of seasons ago - that caused us a lot of problems," said the Spaniard. "We must be in control of the group straight away."
Lyon and Fiorentina will provide a strong challenge to Benitez's side in Group E.
The Tuscan outfit travel to France on Wednesday and will be looking to avenge a 2-1 home defeat to Lyon in November 2008 that knocked them out of last season's competition.
Lyon themselves were eliminated at the quarter-finals by eventual champions Barcelona but coach Claude Puel feels they're well-placed to improve on that showing after an expensive pre-season recruitment drive.
"The goal is to qualify for the knockout stages. No team starts this competition by claiming it will win," said Puel, who brought Brazilian winger Michel Bastos, Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez and France international forward Bafetimbi Gomis to Stade Gerland over the summer.
"For some players, last season was about learning. Today, we have become more natural and our offensive potential is higher."
Group H favourites Arsenal, semi-finalists last year, begin their campaign at Belgian champions Standard Liege.
In the group's other game Olympiakos host Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar, who will be making their debut at this level but whose coach Ronald Koeman becomes the first man to lead five different teams into a Champions League campaign after previous stints at Ajax, Benfica, PSV Eindhoven and Valencia.
Sevilla host Romanian outsiders Unirea Urziceni in Group G, while Scottish giants Rangers travel to Stuttgart for the third instalment of a Champions League rivalry that has already seen the sides face off in the group stages of the 2003 and 2007 editions.