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The ones you knew nothing about: Champions League underdogs

September 29, 2009

This season’s Champions League has thrown a few names at us that very few people from this side of the continent have heard of. With another night of great European action soon to commence, I’ve decided to give you a run-through of the teams that’ll be looking to announce themselves on the European stage.

The badge you see above belongs to Russian champions FC Rubin Kazan, who have also held the names Iskra and Rubin-TAN throughout the late 20th century. In 2003, Rubin made the break into the Russian Premier League, finishing 3rd in their first season, and thereby qualifying for the UEFA Cup (now Europa League).

It took them just 5 years to reach the summit of the Russian top flight, and therefore qualifying for the Champions League for the first time ever. In their history, Rubin have boasted Sergiy Rebrov, and Savo Milosevic amongst their most famous players, and a certain Cedric Roussel whom Coventry City fans will remember.

In their first Champions League game of their first ever campaign, Rubin were soundly beaten 3-1 by Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kiev, but more than held their own in their second encounter, against much more illustrious opponents Inter Milan, led by Jose Mourinho of course. A 1-1 draw in Russia was less than expected and has certainly given Mourinho and his men a shock. Top scorer Alejandro Dominguez got the goal.

Hungary’s reigning championsĀ  Debreceni VSC make up Liverpool’s group, which also includes Fiorentina and Lyon. They will be proud to hold the record for being Hungary’s most successful club since the year 2000. Or maybe they won’t be.

Anyway, Debreceni are a club who were founded way back in 1902, and like Rubin Kazan underwent numerous name changes during the communist era of the mid to late 1900’s. They play their football at Olah Gabor Utca in Debrecen, a stadium that holds over 9,000 people. However, as it does not meet the UEFA standards, Debreceni have to play their European home games down the road in Budapest, at the Puskas Ferenc stadium. That’s a bit like Fulham being told they have to play at Stamford Bridge.

They more than held their own in the opening group match at Anfield, being defeated by just the one goal, scored by Dirk Kuyt. A second round match against Lyon will give them the opportunity to record their first point.

Perhaps the least well known of this year’s participants is Romanian outfit Unirea (careful how you pronounce that) Urziceni. They’re the Romanian champions, and according to their website are the most successful team from Lalomita county. Is that good?

Unirea have never taken part in Europe before 2008, a year that they made the break into the then UEFA Cup. However they only made it to the first round.

They play their home matches at the 7,000 seater Tineretului Stadium, but will be forced to play their European matches in Bucharest for the same reasons as Debreceni.

They make up a group with Rangers, Sevilla and Stuttgart, so perhaps potential for an upset or two this year. That’s actually all there is on Urinea. If anyone could provide me with a few more facts, I’d be oh so grateful.

Cypriot champions Apoel Nicosia probably have the hardest task out of all the ‘minnows’. They’re placed in a group with Chelsea, Porto, and Atletico Madrid.

Apoel have had a fairly illustrious history, as far as Cyprus goes. In 1963/4, taking part in their first ever European competition, Apoel defeated Norweigan side SK Lyn in the UEFA Cup winner’s cup, and triumphed 7-0 over the two legs, before being thrashed 16-1 on aggregate by Sporting Lisbon as they are today. In the 1995/6 campaign, Apoel won the league without losing a game, a feit that had never been achieved before by a cypriot club.

They more than held their own in the first round match of this season’s Champions League too. A 0-0 draw with Atletico suggests they’re not a team to be underestimated. Nuno Morais is a name to watch out for. The young Portuguese was on Chelsea’s books last season.

So there’s a little low-down on the clubs you probably knew nothing about. Now when one of these 4 sides creates a real upset, you can thank me for bringing them to your attention.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. September 29, 2009 8:41 pm

    Good stuff, George.

  2. September 29, 2009 8:55 pm

    excellent stuff George

  3. September 29, 2009 9:14 pm

    George, Unirea toured Spain earlier this year and were eventually trimmed up by my local Segunda ‘A’ side Elche C.F., despite squandering a half time lead. Not much of a line of form I realise, but they’re managed by one Dan Petrescu, once of Sheffield Wednesday, Chelsea, and Southampton, who, as well as gaining promotion from the Romanian second division in his first season won their league title last year too. Despite scoring the winner against England for Romania at France ’98, he’s actually a top bloke and a pretty good coach.
    Don’t be too surprised if they end up third in their Champo group.

  4. George permalink
    September 29, 2009 9:16 pm

    Great stuff Kevin! Thank you for adding to the knowledge of a little known club!

    + I have the boots in your picture. Safeeee.

  5. George permalink
    September 29, 2009 9:22 pm

    I think I spelt ‘Unirea’ at least 3 different ways in that piece. It’s one of the three!

  6. September 29, 2009 9:24 pm

    George, you know that football chant, “can we play you every week?” well, you may not hear that too often when Unirea play ‘cos they’re a bit hard!

  7. George permalink
    September 29, 2009 9:27 pm

    Are they really? I guess teams from that area are most of the time.
    Any decent players to watch out for?

  8. Kevin permalink
    September 29, 2009 11:33 pm

    To be truthful I have no idea. No doubt, as Champions of Romania’s Liga 1, they probably supply a few squad members for the World Cup qualifying campaign, which has stuttered a bit. Just did a quick Wiki’ and the Unirea squad is a bit of a League of Nations with Serbs, a Portugese, a Brazilian, Lithuanians etc.
    I reckon a good guide to their standard is the two games versus Glasgow Rangers

  9. Neil permalink
    September 30, 2009 10:30 am

    Thanks George, great article. Can you shed any light on Apoel’s connection to credit card giant VISA, as seen by their blatant hijacking of the teams badge?

  10. George permalink
    September 30, 2009 11:46 am

    Well Neil. After much research into the Apoel Nicosia badge, I can reveal that it has nothing to do with Visa. The badge has remained the same since the club’s establishment on 8th November 1926.

    The colours, Blue and Yellow, symbolise Greece and Cyprus respectively, and after the club won their 20th Championship last season, two stars were added over the logo to symbolise just that.

    Hope that’s okay for you!

    • Neil permalink
      September 30, 2009 12:09 pm

      Outstanding work, Thanks again.

  11. George permalink
    September 30, 2009 12:41 pm

    Thank you for reading!

  12. October 20, 2009 10:32 pm

    George, when you posted your article these four were definitely unknown quantities.
    After this evenings fixtures no longer.

    Whatever happened at the Camp Nou – the mighty Barca humbled by Rubin Kazan, unbelievable. Unirea, who I have a bit of a soft spot for, did their campaign a power of good in Glasgow. W

  13. October 20, 2009 10:35 pm

    I’ll continue….. with two out of three games at home, the Romanians may spring an even bigger surprise.

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