Battle for glory, fans’ pride and hundreds of millions of Euros... The run for the world’s most prestigious silverware – the UEFA Champions League trophy begins.
It was just a couple of months ago that Barcelona finished its previous campaign, defeating Italian giants Juventus in the 60th finals to gain its fifth European title.
And it’s already time for a new season! A total of 78 teams from 53 countries entered the competition, but only 32 will join football’s elite.
So far, 22 teams have secured their places through domestic competitions with ten more hopefuls to qualify after the play-offs, scheduled for 19-20 and 26-27 August respectively.
These matches will feature powerhouse teams like Manchester United, Sporting Lisbon and Valencia.
Executive Producer for sport online at SBS Toby Forage explains why every football fan should wake up early in the morning for the “beautiful game.”
"We call the Champions League the best club football competition in the world. It’s like a multitude of World Cups almost. You have literally every single one of the best world’s players playing in the competition. So, the quality of football is second to none, it’s just extraordinary, you know. You’ve got the likes of Leo Messi running around, Cristiano Ronaldo, commonly recognised as two of the best players in the world. And that just brings so much excitement for anyone, not just for those who are into football on a high level, but anyone who loves the game, from the grassroots all the way up.”
Recent successes of the Socceroos and A-League clubs have largely contributed to the growing interest in football around Australia.
SBS’s chief football analyst and former Australian international player Craig Foster says, more and more fans will get involved with Champions League.
"The football comunity in Australia is growing by thousands every single day and this is why Champions League becoming more known in Australia, more respected in Australia and more loved. For people who enjoy football and been drawn to the game, been drawn to the A-League and Socceroos after their recent success, and I think their appreciation of the game is drawing them into the Champions League. And also, what the Champions League does, is anyone who has even a slightest interest in football in Australia, it gives them a greater appreciation of the beauty of the game. And so, any real fan, if we can say, loves the Champions League because they know it’s the premium product, one of the premium sports products in the world.“
Sydney FC’s star Milos Ninkovic is the only A-League footballer who has played in the Champions League.
The former Dinamo Kyiv and Red Star Belgrade midfielder says it’s an amazing experience.
[Serbian with English V/O] “Champions League is the best tournament I’ve ever played in. It’s something totally different than any other competition in the world. That sound, when the League anthem plays before the kick-off, that simply gets you goose bumps all over and cannot compare with other tournaments. Playing the Champions League was something most memorable in my career."
In this season every club will chase Barcelona who is a strong favourite to defend the title.
Milos Ninkovic says the Spanish side with Leo Messi at the helm will be difficult to stop.
Ninkovic also recognises the French champions Paris Saint Germainas possible contenders.
[Serbian with English V/O] "In my opinion, Barcelona is always favorite number one, regardless a competition or a lineup they play in, only if Leo Messi is on the pitch. This season, I think that Paris Saint Germain can be a potential surprise and a strong rival to Spanish champion. French outfit has almost same team for a couple of years and they also strengthen their side with a new goalkeeper and one of the best wingers Angel Di Maria. Maybe they could do more last season but unfortunately for them, they ran on mighty Barcelona in quarterfinals. It’s to early to speak, but Barcelona is strong enough to defend the title, with PSG waiting for a chance."
Real Madrid is the most successful European club with ten Champions League trophies.
Craig Foster says it will be impossible to ignore this superstar team.
He points out two former winners, German outfit Bayern Munich and English giants Manchester United who will also be vying for the trophy.
"You look at the usual suspects every year for last four or five have been Real Madrid of course. You have Rafa Benitez now, a new coach at Real Madrid, but I am not sure if he can get the same success out of them as Ancelotti did. I doubt it very much. Bayern Munich has its own issues as well, with Pep Guardiola in final year of his contract and already linked away with Manchester City."
Craig Foster says Manchester United will try to return to its glory days with its famous Dutch coach.
"Manchester United are very interesting because Louis van Gaal who is trying to revitalise the once great club. Some would argue they are still so. But nevertheless, only way that you can maintain greatness these days is not in domestic competition, it’s in the Champions League and there is a real beauty of competition. Look at Manchester City over the past few years, they won multiple EPL (English Premier leagues) and nevertheless they saying almost all are the failures, because amount they spent hasn’t translated itself into breaking into that lead echelon of clubs."
Craig Foster also recognises Premier League side Arsenal as a potential „dark horse“.
"Arsenal will be a very interesting one. Apparently they do well, they have one final under Wenger, nevertheless, they always get outside of the group. But I feel with a stronger keeper in Peter Chech and perhaps we’ll see another strong striker, this may be their season to go perhepas semi-finals and beyond."
Serbian midfielder Milos Ninkovic was capped 45 times in European competitions during his career.
He argues that none of the English Premier League clubs, like Chelsea or Manchester City, will be a threat to the favourites from Spain and France.
[Serbian with English V/O] “Honestly, I don’t see Premier League clubs as contenders this year. They cannot parry sides like Barcelona, Real Madrid or PSG.”
Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic are some of the superstarswho will bring you spectacular football and entertainment.
But when it comes to the world’s best, Milos Ninkovic believes, it’s the Argentinian who carries the magic in his boots.
He says apart from Messi, young Frenchman Paul Pogba from Italian giants Juventus will be one of the players who will mesmerise football fans.
[Serbian with English V/O] “For me, Leo Messi is the best. No doubt. Also, there are a lot of young players to watch, but I think Pogba is the one to pay a special attention on. He played on a top level in previous season and in a couple of years he can become one of the best in the world.”
The beauty of the Champions League is not just about seeing the best clubs, players and coaches, but also the next generation of world stars.
Craig Fosters says Real’s James Rodrigez is one to watch.
“Well, you want to see James Rodriguez and see what he can do at Real Madrid this time around. This is where these young stars really announce themselves. I remember, for instance, David Silva when he was playing for Valencia many years ago and he played one his first games in Champions League against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, we did live on air on SBS. I will never forget watching the game and saying at halftime: “Who is this kid? This kid is extraordinary player!” He scored a wonderful goal from outside the box against Chelsea, and you don’t realise, but you know, years later he is winning World Cup and becoming amazing footballer. So, that’s also beauty of competition you can see the new stars.”
The Road to the legendary San Siro stadium in Milan where the finals will take place is nine months long.
Who will survive the 12-match journey?
Who will earn a ticket to football immortality and the massive 83 million dollars in prize money?
We’ll find out on 28 May 2016.
Executive Producer for sport online at SBS Toby Forage says the Champions League will certainly offer a unique experience that cannot be found anywhere else.
“For those who are new to this sport, it’s commonly recognized as the “Beautiful game”. But I think the best way to showcase that is by watching the Champions League, because every club is playing the very best football that can be played. From aesthetic point of view, it’s very difficult to find anywhere else where you see such, you know, wonderful, beautiful looking football.”
SBS’s live coverage starts 4.30am Wednesday 19 August.