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Group D features three very experienced teams familiar with the pressures of playing in the UEFA Champions League. Anderlecht appears to be overmatched against these regular participants who are fixtures in the round of 16. But there are only two spots in the knockout stage available. The loser will have to settle for a spot in the Europa League.
Arsenal – For 17 consecutive years, Arsenal has qualified for the group stage. The Gunners have also advanced to the knockout round for 15 straight seasons. Arsene Wenger’s team is loaded with talent that includes German World Cup winners Mezut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski. World Cup star Joel Campbell and recent signing Danny Welbeck add depth and fire power. But Arsenal has been given a tough draw despite being a top seed. Dortmund is always a difficult team to play and playing Galatasaray in Turkey is never an easy task.
Borussia Dortmund – Despite continuing to lose top-level players, Dortmund remains a very dangerous team. Jurgen Klopp’s leadership and tactical acumen has the team believing they are capable of playing in the final in Berlin. Top scorer Robert Lewandowski and German World Cup hero Mario Goetze have moved on to arch rival Bayern Munich. Their talents will be sorely missed. This is the third time in the last four seasons that Arsenal and Dortmund have been placed in the same group. They split their games last year, each winning the away game. Winning the group could come down to maintaining home field advantage. Dortmund captain Mats Hummels said, “What we expect from ourselves is to get through this group.”
Galatasaray – By landing in Group D, Galatasaray has now qualified for the UEFA Champions League 13 times. Last year, they advanced to the round of 16. Because of Fenerbahce’s suspension, they advanced straight into the group stage without having to go through the playoff route. Wesley Sneijder, the Netherlands’ international, is their big star, although the signing of Goran Pandev from Napoli will add big game experience. Pandev was a member of Inter Milan’s 2010 Champions League winning team. While a trip to Turkey is never easy for visiting teams, it seems unlikely that Galatasaray will be able to overcome Arsenal and Dortmund.
Anderlecht – After winning three consecutive Belgian championships, Anderlecht has competed regularly in the Champions League. While they are young and talented, they have always come up short in this competition. Last year, they only managed one tie in the group stage and may be poised for another early exit, as they are grouped with three more experienced and dynamic clubs. Aleksander Miktrovic is their teenage sensation from Serbia, but he will need more seasoning before making a big impact. David Henan and Oliver Sarkic, two other talented youngsters, left Anderlecht. Henan will be playing for Everton, while Sarkic will take his talents to Group C favorite Benfica. Besnik Hasi, the Anderlecht coach stated it quite simply, “(It) will be extremely difficult for us.”
Group D of the UEFA Champions League appears to be a three-team race, with Anderlecht trying to crash the party. As Arsenal, Dortmund, and Galatasaray fight for the right to advance, Anderlecht will be fighting for points. This promises to be one of the more competitive groups and should feature close, exciting games.
Commentary by Hans Benes