Barcelona gets tough Champs League group with Bayern, Inter

Sports

ISTANBUL (AP) — Barcelona faces another tough Champions League group after being drawn with Bayern Munich and Inter Milan on Thursday as it tries to avoid a second straight group-stage exit since losing Lionel Messi.

Barcelona also faced Bayern in the group stage last season when the German club won 3-0 both home and away as the Spanish giant slumped to third place and failed to reach the knockout stage.

Still, Barcelona has since recruited former Bayern forward Robert Lewandowski — the two-time FIFA player of the year who will now face his his old teammates — despite financial turmoil that has affected its ability to register and retain players.

Inter Milan is another former champion in a group that boasts a combined 14 European Cup or Champions League titles. Viktoria Plzeň of the Czech Republic is the fourth team in Group C.

Real Madrid has 14 titles of its own and will defend the trophy in a group with Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic.

Shakhtar cannot play in Ukraine during the Russian military invasion and will play “home” games in Warsaw in neighboring Poland. UEFA has banned all Russian teams from its competitions.

Messi will try for a second year to bring a first European title to Paris Saint-Germain, which landed in a group with two former two-time champions — Juventus and Benfica — plus Maccabi Haifa.

Another reunion after a blockbuster offseason move will see Manchester City’s star signing Erling Haaland going back to his old club Borussia Dortmund. That group also includes Sevilla and Copenhagen.

Liverpool and Rangers will have a rare England-Scotland clash in the Champions League, in a group that also includes Ajax and Napoli.

The Champions League group stage start early this season on Sept. 6 and end five weeks sooner than usual on Nov. 2 because of the World Cup in Qatar, which starts Nov. 20.

After six rounds of games spanning just eight full weeks, a three-month pause is taken before the round of 16 starts in February.

Fixture congestion caused by the first World Cup played in the European winter means the Champions League final in Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium is on June 10.

It’s the latest scheduled final since the inaugural European Cup title match in 1956.

The 32 teams will share about 2 billion euros ($1.99 billion) in UEFA prize money.

Each team gets a basic fee of 15.6 million euros ($15.5 million), plus 2.8 million euros ($2.78 million) per win and 930,000 euros ($924,000) for each draw in the group stage. Payments increase for advancing through each knockout round.

It all adds up to the eventual champion getting around 125 million euros ($124 million) in UEFA prize money.

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GROUP A: Ajax (Netherlands), Liverpool (England), Napoli (Italy), Rangers (Scotland).

GROUP B: Porto (Portugal), Atlético Madrid (Spain), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Club Brugge (Belgium).

GROUP C: Bayern Munich (Germany), Barcelona (Spain), Inter Milan (Italy), Viktoria Plzeň (Czech Republic).

GROUP D: Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), Tottenham (England), Sporting Lisbon (Portugal), Marseille (France).

GROUP E: AC Milan (Italy), Chelsea (England), Salzburg (Austria), Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia).

GROUP F: Real Madrid (Spain), Leipzig (Germany), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Celtic (Scotland).

GROUP G: Manchester City (England), Sevilla (Spain), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Copenhagen (Denmark).

GROUP H: Paris Saint-Germain (France), Juventus (Italy), Benfica (Portugal), Maccabi Haifa (Israel).

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