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FC Barcelona learned on Thursday evening that their 2014/15 Champions League bid will commence in Group F, which they’ll share with Paris Saint Germain, Ajax Amsterdam and Apoel Nicosia, the respective league champions of France, Holland and Cyprus.
Paris Saint Germain
The winners of the last two editions of French Ligue 1 last faced FC Barcelona in the Champions League quarter finals two years ago. A gripping affair ended 3-3 on aggregate, with the Catalans progressing by virtue of the away goals rule. The game is also a re-edition of the 1997 Cup Winners Cup Final in Rotterdam, also won by Barça, 1-0 thanks to a 38th minute Ronaldo penalty.
Barça’s squad that 1996/97 season included French defender Laurent Blanc, although he was forced to sit out the final through injury. The same man is now into his second season on the PSG bench, and he’s not the only connection between the Parisian outfit and FCB. Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Barça from Inter Milan in 2009, and Brazilians Thiago Motta and Maxwell also spent time in the Catalan capital. The PSG squad contains two other big names from Brazil, David Luiz and Thiago Silva, plus other top quality players of the calibre of Lavezzi, Cavani, Marquinhos, Matuidi and Cabaye.
Barça and Ajax had never met each other in a competitive match until they were paired together in the group stages of last season’s Champions League. Under Tata Martino, Barça had few problems beating the Dutch 4-0 at the Camp Nou, but were beaten 2-1 at the Amsterdam Arena, albeit after already having sealed qualification from the group.
Ajax have made up for a seven-year spell without touching the Eredivisie trophy by winning the last four editions. Now managed by Frank de Boer, who played for Barça between 1999 and 2003, the squad includes several players that impressed at the World Cup, including goalkeeper Cillessen and defender Daley Blind. As tends to be the case, Ajax have an extremely young side, in which the oldest player, Moslander, is only 30 years old and most of the team were born in the 1990s..
This will be the first ever meeting between Barça and the most successful side in Cypriot football history, APOEL, who famously made it all the way to the Champions League quarter finals two years ago. In fact, it’s only the second time Barça have ever been drawn against Cypriot opposition. The last and only time was the 1996-97 Cup Winners Cup campaign under Bobby Robson, when Barça played and beat AEK Larnaca in the first round.
APOEL made it into the group stages of the competition for the third time by first beating HJK Helsinki, curiously enough just a few days after the Finns had played Barça in a preseason friendly, and then Danish side Aalborg 5-1 on aggregate. The squad includes Spaniard Urko Pardo, who spent three years at La Masia, where he shared a dressing room with the likes of Messi and Iniesta.
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