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Underdogs in good shape as Cluj line up Chelsea
September 29, 2008 16:20 IST
Romanian club CFR Cluj will believe anything is possible on Wednesday when they host Chelsea in the UEFA [Images] Champions League having blazed a trail for the competition's supposed lightweights two weeks ago.
Their stunning 2-1 victory against Roma in the Italian capital quickly put paid to the notion that the team from Transylvania boasting an exotic mix of south Americans would lack real bite on their Champions League debut.
Likewise, fellow debutants Anorthosis Famagusta from Cyprus will face Panathinaikos in Group B on Wednesday with no inferiority complex having marked their rise to Europe's elite echelon with a gritty 0-0 draw at Werder Bremen.
Champions Manchester United [Images] will need to be on their guard too at Danish outsiders Aalborg BK on Tuesday as they try and make up for a sterile 0-0 draw against Villarreal on opening night when Aalborg held Celtic in Glasgow.
Shock seekers will also have one eye on Juventus who take a trip into the unknown to face Belarus representatives BATE Borisov who held their own despite a 2-0 defeat by nine-times European kings Real Madrid [Images] on their debut in the competition.
UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg [Images] complete the clutch of fixtures sending established Champions League regulars to unfamiliar and potentially tricky surroundings when they welcome Real Madrid having lost 1-0 to Juventus.
One of the heavyweight clashes of the second round of group fixtures occurs in Munich on Tuesday when Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host Olympique Lyon.
On Wednesday Italian champions Inter Milan host Werder Bremen and Barcelona make the long trek to the Ukraine to play a Shakhtar Donetsk side traditionally strong at home.
However, it is Chelsea's first ever trip to Romania that epitomises the appeal of this season's Champions League which has a fresh, unpredictable feel about it.
Romanian champions Cluj, the first team from outside the country's capital Bucharest to qualify, made a slow start in the domestic league but Argentine Juan Culio ensured a place in the club's folklore with a double against Roma in only Italian coach Maurizio Trombetta's second game in charge.
Culio's unlikely arrival in Romania followed a difficult football journey that saw him overlooked by any of his country's major clubs. Now, 18 months after arriving, there are calls to give him Romanian citizenship so that he can play in the national team.
Chelsea have enjoyed a great start under new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari [Images] and are top of the English Premier League but the Brazilian is wary of a Cluj squad boasting four Portuguese, four Argentines, three Brazilians and a Uruguayan not to mention Ivory Coast midfielder Emmanuel Kone.
Victory would put Chelsea in charge of Group A after their 4-0 defeat of Bordeaux two weeks ago but Scolari is taking no chances and has prepared a lengthy dossier on Cluj to help avoid a scary night in the Romanian hills.
"If we win we will be in a very good position...but if Cluj can win away from home [like they did at Roma] then we are in danger," he said after Saturday's 2-0 victory at Stoke City.
Like Chelsea, most of the main favourites to reach next May's final in Rome enjoyed good starts with Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Liverpool and Juventus all winning.
The one notable exception was Manchester United. Alex Ferguson's team can afford no repeat of their last trip to Denmark when they lost 1-0 to FC Copenhagen two years ago.
However, with Cristiano Ronaldo [Images] returning to form having scored in successive games this could be the moment United put down a marker.
"Ronny scored against Middlesbrough in the League Cup and he's now scored against Bolton," defender Patrice Evra told MUTV.
"He's getting better. He had a big injury over the summer but now he's looking more like the player we saw last season. Ronny's back."
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