Eastern European teams struggling in Champions League
If the opening two rounds in the Champions League group stage are anything to go by, eastern European teams in the competition will find it difficult to advance to the knockout stage.
As things stand at the moment, most of them could also be denied the consolation prize of carrying on in the Europa League after the winter break.
Teams from this part of Europe registered just one win, one draw and five defeats on Tuesday and Wednesday and most have a mountain to climb if they are to reach the last 16.
Five of them — CSKA Moscow, Otelul Galati, Dinamo Zagreb, Shakhtar Donetsk and Viktoria Plzen are bottom in their respective groups.
BATE Borisov, who were handed a 5-0 drubbing by holders Barcelona in Belarus, also have a very slim chance of progressing, while only Zenit St. Petersburg look likely to reach the last 16 after an impressive 3-1 home win against 2004 winners Porto.
Can eastern European teams catch up with their western rivals and mount a sustained challenge?
Even the wealthy and strong among them struggle to keep up. Shakhtar reached the quarter-finals last season after winning the 2009 UEFA Cup but although they enjoyed a relatively kind draw this term, they made a poor start after taking just one point from their opening two games.
On the other hand, some less familiar names from the western half of the continent are fighting with a cluster of usual suspects already looking assured of advancing into the knockout stage of the competition.
Cypriots APOEL Nicosia (‘western’ historically if not geographically), Swiss upstarts Basel and Italian hopefuls Napoli, who last played in the Europe’s premier club competition when they had a certain Diego Maradona in their ranks, have all made bright starts and could reach the latter stages of the competition at the expense more heralded opposition.
Or, will the business end turn out to be a predictable clash of the titans? How long can the underdogs and the dark horses keep up with the favourites?
PHOTO: AC Milan’s Clarence Seedorf (L) challenges Frantisek Rajtoral of Viktoria Plzen during their Champions League Group H soccer match at the San Siro September 28, 2011. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini