While many, including myself, might've groaned when we saw Dortmund paired up against last year's champions Real Madrid once again, the Champions League draw offers Borussia the perfect dose of entertainment and challenge. Sure, it's the fourth time in the past five seasons we've gone up against them in Europe, but most will agree that nothing would feel better than humbling Cristiano Ronaldo.
While the other two teams in our group, Sporting Lisbon and Legia Warsaw, may not be the most prominent of teams, they will give Dortmund an exciting, and quite possibly difficult time. Portuguese side Sporting are certainly no pushovers. The Primeira Liga runners-up boast the core of the Portuguese National Team that won this summer's Euros with a focus on defense. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio and midfielders Joao Mario, William Carvalho, and Adrien Silva are all mainstays in the international team, and are a big reason that Sporting only lost twice in the Primeria Liga last season.
Their manager, Jorge Jesus, was in charge of Benfica from 2009-2015, leading them to three league titles, a Champions League quarterfinal, and a Europa League final. His experience alone suggests that Sporting will be no slouch, but along with their Portuguese core and talented Algerian striker Islam Slimani, they are one of the tougher teams coming from pot three. Slimani made a name for himself during Algeria's impressive World Cup performance in 2014, and was the second leading scorer in the Primeira League last season, scoring 27 along with six assists. His talents haven't gone unnoticed, as he's recently been linked with moves to Arsenal and West Brom.
Dortmund will be expected to take four points at minimum from Sporting, but the Portuguese side could very well give Dortmund more problems than Real Madrid, similar to how Borussia struggled in the group stage of last season's Europa League.
The easiest opponent by a long shot is Polish side Legia Warsaw. They're the first Polish team to be in the Champions League since Widzew Lodz in that 1996/1997 season where Dortmund lifted the trophy. It took a 3-1 victory on aggregate over Dundalk in the final qualifying round for Legia to reach the Champions League, and their fans will certainly will be a sight to behold when we face them on the first match day in Warsaw.
Their most dangerous player is Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic, who scored 27 goals and assisted 11 last season to help Legia win the Ekstraklasa. He featured once for Hungary during their also impressive Euro campaign, in their 1-1 draw versus Iceland.
However, this may be Legia's worst team in recent years. Currently six games into the new Ekstraklasa season, they're sitting in 12th place after winning once, losing twice, and drawing thrice. While this dry spell is unlikely to last, they'll still be the punching bag of group F. With just a short journey across Germany's eastern border, it doesn't figure to be a taxing first game for Dortmund. The team will likely still be getting acclimated with all the new signings, as the Champions League opener will only be their fourth competitive game of the season. This could be an effective warm up to the Bundesliga and also for the upcoming match up with Real Madrid.
Image by Adam Nurkiewicz, Getty Images
The most daunting challenge, however, is clearly the reigning champions Real Madrid. It'll be Zinedine Zidane's first full year in charge of the club, and failure to lift this trophy once again might be regarded as a disappointment in their fans' eyes. Dortmund can make these two games against Real much easier for themselves if they can get 10 points out of 12 against Legia and Sporting. If this happens, any points taken form Real Madrid would surely send Dortmund through to the knockouts.
Zidane made quite an impression after landing the job after Benitez's firing, and it's no small achievement that he's retained the job this summer considering the sky-high expectations that Florentino Perez puts on the team. The Galactico's only finished one point behind Barcelona, despite being in third when Zidane took over in January. With no marquee signings this offseason, Real once again are going to rely on Euro winner Cristiano Ronaldo and semifinalist Gareth Bale. Marc Bartra is all too familiar with this pair, especially after being beaten by Bale one on one to win the 2014 Copa del Rey final.
In the 2012-2013 season, Dortmund fared extremely well against Real, topping them in the group stage while beating them 2-1 at home on a Marcel Schmelzer goal, then drawing 2-2 at the Bernabeu, only on a late Ozil equalizer. And everyone knows what happened in the semifinal. That 4-1 win at the Westfalenstadion is probably one of every Dortmund's fans best memories. It's not impossible that we get the best of them again, but like last time, it's going to take one hell of an effort.
Group F should be evenly exciting and challenging for Dortmund, but still gives us a good chance at advancing to the round of 16. Despite the fourth time in the last five years that we've lined up against Real Madrid, it's always intriguing when a team of their quality comes around. Sporting are likely to put up a good fight with many of their players coming off an impressive Euro campaign, while Legia will just be ecstatic to be in the tournament.
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