Champions League draws set to take place, Spanish giants most dreadedSport
MONACO: The eyes of European football will be on Monaco on Thursday as holders Real Madrid and the rest of the continent's elite discover their fate when the Champions League group-stage draw is made.
Zinedine Zidane's side won the trophy last season — a record 11th in the club's history — as Cristiano Ronaldo scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against city rivals Atletico after the final in Milan finished 1-1.
That allowed Spanish clubs to continue their recent domination of the Champions League, with Madrid and Barcelona exchanging the trophy over the last three years and Atletico appearing in two of the last three finals.
The aim now for Madrid is to become the first team to retain the trophy in the Champions League era -- the last club to win back-to-back European Cups was AC Milan in 1990.
“This is the reason I came to Madrid — to play in the Champions League, to win the Champions League,” Madrid star Gareth Bale said in an interview with UEFA.com.
“Two in three years is an amazing achievement. Now we want to look to the next one. It's obviously a massive motivation for us all to be the first team to retain the Champions League.”
Getting to this year's final would be that bit more special for Bale for another reason — it's being played in his hometown, the Welsh capital Cardiff.
The final at the Principality Stadium will be played on June 3 next year, with the opening group games set for September 13 and 14.
Joining continental giants Real, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica in the first pot of clubs will be the Russian champions CSKA Moscow and Claudio Ranieri's Leicester City.
Fresh from their remarkable Premier League title triumph last season, Leicester will appear in Europe's elite competition for the first time.
Their last appearance in Europe ended in a UEFA Cup first-round defeat to Red Star Belgrade in 2000.
“I hope we are ready, not just to listen to the music but to do some music,” was how Ranieri put it back in the spring as he looked ahead to the Champions League nights in store at the King Power Stadium.
An unkind draw could see Leicester grouped together with Atletico or 1997 winners and 2013 runners-up Borussia Dortmund from the second pot, Dynamo Kiev from pot three and Monaco — one of Ranieri's old sides — from pot four.
As for the other Premier League representatives, Arsenal and Manchester City will be in pot two and Tottenham Hotspur in pot three.
Spain, England and Germany will all have four clubs in the group stage, while Portugal and France will each have three.
Russian side Rostov feature for the first time after ousting Anderlecht and Ajax to qualify, while Celtic are back in the group stage for the first time in three years after edging out Hapoel Be'er Sheva of Israel in the play-offs.
“It is an incredible moment for the supporters. They are going to be back in amongst Europe's elite and it is where Celtic belong,” said the Scottish champions' manager Brendan Rodgers.
It is also where the money is — each club is guaranteed 12 million euros (10.2 million pounds, $13.5 million) just from being in the group stage but in reality they will bank a lot more than that.
Real reportedly earned in the region of 94 million euros in total from winning the competition last season, roughly the same as what Italian champions and 2015 Champions League runners-up Juventus paid to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli this summer.