Published 11/09/2011 | 05:00
Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St Petersburg, Apoel
Europa League champions Porto will have spent much time focusing on what they have lost rather than what they have gained since their triumph at Lansdowne Road in May.
Andre Villas Boas has left for Chelsea while prolific goalscorer Radamel Falcao has joined Atletico Madrid but the new coach, Villas Boas's former assistant Vitor Pereira, has been busy over the summer adding Brazilian duo Alex Sandro and Danilo and Steven Defour from Standard Liege among others.
Defour counts Alex Ferguson among his many admirers and his leadership from central midfield will be crucial if the Portuguese champions are to get out of a tough group where travel to cold climates is almost as big an obstacle as any of the teams, though they get their trip to Russia out of the way this month.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg may feel that they hold the aces, particularly on home soil. In particular, Zenit, currently top of the Russian league, will feel that they can reach the knockout stages for the first time.
Shakhtar have more Champions League experience -- and impressed greatly in reaching the quarter-finals last season -- and they have managed to hold onto the sought-after Brazilians in their squad. Apoel, unfortunately, look like they are there to make up the numbers.
Key player: Steven Defour
Key game: Shakhtar v Zenit St Petersburg, Oct 19
Prediction: 1 Shakhtar, 2 Porto, 3 Zenit,
Sunday Indo Sport