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Magnificent seven begin march to final

Manchester United are among the European giants taking their first major step towards the chance of Champions League glory at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in 2010 when the much-awaited group stages kick-off this week.

sports Updated: Sep 15, 2009 01:34 IST

Manchester United are among the European giants taking their first major step towards the chance of Champions League glory at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in 2010 when the much-awaited group stages kick-off this week.

With seven former winners in action on Tuesday's menu, the English champions, who were outclassed 2-0 by Barcelona in the 2009 final, are odds-on to register their first win in Group B against Besiktas in Istanbul.

Premier League rivals Chelsea are on superb domestic form but despite home advantage will be wary of 2004 champions FC Porto in a match that Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho, formerly in charge of both teams, may be watching closely.

Former France captain Didier Deschamps is hoping his tactical nous pays off when his Marseille side host seven-time champions AC Milan while Juventus, winners back in 1996, host French champions Bordeaux.

Real Madrid, the record nine-times winners, are set to unleash record signing Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema on the far more modest FC Zurich in Switzerland in a bid to take control of Group C.

Elsewhere, Maccabi Haifa host Bayern Munich in northern Israel, faltering German champions Wolfsburg are at home against CSKA Moscow and Atletico Madrid host Cypriot side Apoel.

With Wolfsburg, Moscow and Besiktas to contend with United are expected to finish among the top two before Christmas and qualify for February's first knockout round.

Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti indicated that injured playmaker Deco could be back for the visit of Porto but the Italian, who led AC Milan to their last two Champions League triumphs in 2003 and 2007, said facing Porto after a win, and with confidence flying, is paramount.

Featuring Milan, Real Madrid and Marseille, as well as minows Zurich, Group C is arguably the toughest in this year's competition and while Milan and Real are odds-on to qualify Marseille, too, fancy their chances.

Adebayor's Van Persie kick not deliberate

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes has defended striker Emmanuel Adebayor against accusations that he deliberately injured former teammate Robin van Persie. The Football Association is set to investigate the former Arsenal forward's goal celebration in front of visiting fans in Saturday's 4-2 win over the Gunners, a game in which Van Persie was cut below the eye by what he called a “mindless and malicious stamp” from the same player.

Van Persie said he was fortunate to escape more serious injury, but Hughes repeated Adebayor's contention that it was an accidental collision.

“Emmanuel Adebayor sustained a tremendous amount of personal abuse from the kickoff but strongly maintains that there was no malice intended in the challenge on Robin van Persie and apologized to him when he hugged him on leaving the field of play at the end of the game,” Hughes said.

“The referee had a great view of the challenge from Ade and the one that preceded it by Van Persie and deemed at the time that neither were worthy of either a yellow or red card.”

Adebayor, who joined City in July after ending his final season in north London subject to accusations from fans of a poor attitude and work rate, caught Van Persie's face with his boot after the Netherlands striker tried to dispossess him with a sliding tackle.

He then ran the length of the field to celebrate after scoring. Furious Arsenal fans hurled objects on to the field and had to be controlled by stewards, one of whom was knocked unconscious.

“We expect high standards of behaviour from our players and it is easy in the cold light of day, when the adrenaline has died down, to talk about what players should and shouldn't do in that situation,” Hughes said.

Greater Manchester police earlier criticised Adebayor for sparking crowd disorder that led to a steward being knocked unconscious during the match. It is possible that the player will face disciplinary charges and a suspension.

FA's chief executive, Ian Watmore, praised the stewards for “doing a great job trying to calm it down” as well as the referee, Mark Clattenburg, who handled the flashpoint “very well”.