The Champions League is the latest incarnation of the UEFA-organised cup competition for the top European sides. It was previously known (from 1955 to 1992) as the European Cup and remains Europe`s most prestigious club tournament.
THE TOP XI
German `keeper Oliver Kahn earns his place in the top XI courtesy of his formidable shot-stopping ability. A record signing for Bayern Munich in 1994, he helped his side to the 1999 final, where they were denied by 2 injury-time goals from Manchester United. However, Champions League glory was only delayed, with Kahn being named “Man of the Match” in Bayern`s 2001 Champions League success over Valencia, where he made crucial saves in the penalty shootout.
Of Ghanaian descent, but a naturalised Frenchman, versatile defender Desailly joined Olympique Marseille in 1992, and was influential in their success in the inaugural Champions League tournament in 1993. He was a member of the winning side again in 1994, with AC Milan, becoming the first player to win consecutive Champions League titles with different sides.
Hierro, another versatile performer, won 3 Champions League titles with Real Madrid in 1998, 2000 and 2002. A combination of solid defensive performances, precise passing and goalscoring ability make him well worthy of inclusion.
Italian left-back Maldini is widely viewed as one of the greatest defenders of all time. He is renowned for his electrifying pace, precision tackling and leadership qualities. He has lifted the trophy five times, the latest coming in AC Milan`s 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the 2007 Athens final.
Portuguese centre-back Carvalho, now with Chelsea, is renowned for his strength, durability and an exceptional ability to win the ball in the air. He came to prominence in 2003-04, with his exceptional performances contributing to FC Porto`s Champions League success. He was voted the best Champions League defender for that season.
Steven Gerrard is a right-sided midfielder who has skippered Liverpool since 2003 and has become one of the first names on the England team sheet in recent seasons. Returning from injury, he scored what he considers his most important goal in a 2005 group match against Olympiakos, securing the Reds` progression to the knockout phase. He was also on target in the final against AC Milan (in which he was named “Man of the Match”) as Liverpool recovered for a win on penalties, having trailed 3-0 at half-time.
An attacking midfielder, Zidane was a losing finalist with Juventus in 1997 and 1998. However having joined Real Madrid in 2001, he scored the winning goal in the 2002 final, in a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen. With great creativity and exceptionally skilful, Zidane was voted FIFA “Player of the Year” on 3 occasions.
Central midfielder Beckham made his first-team debut for Manchester United in 1992. His creativity on the ball and precise crossing was influential in United`s 6 Premiership title successes and a Champions League victory in 1999. United trailed 1-0 against Bayern Munich in the 1999 final, but scored twice in injury-time, both goals coming from Beckham corners. He was runner-up in both the European “Footballer of the Year” and FIFA “World Player of the Year” in that season.
Anderson Luis de Souza, commonly known as Deco was born in Brazil, but is naturalised Portuguese. He led FC Porto to the 2004 Champions League final, scoring the 2nd goal in a 3-0 success over Monaco, being named “Man of the Match.” He was also voted UEFA “Most Valuable Player” and “Best Midfielder” in the 2004 tournament. Deco tasted success again, with Barcelona in 2006.
Cameroon international striker Eto`o has been a prodigious goalscorer for Barcelona, with 105 goals from 139 appearances. He contributed 6 successful strikes in Barca`s 2006 Champions League campaign, including the equaliser in the final. Barcelona went on to beat Arsenal 2–1 and Eto`o was awarded with the UEFA “Best Forward of the Year” award for his accomplishments.
All-time leading goalscorer (64 goals) and 3-times Champions League winner with Real Madrid, second striker Raul is a must for inclusion in the starting XI.
Voted “World`s Best Goalkeeper” in 1992 and 1993, Schmeichel skippered Manchester United to Champions League success in 1999.
Ferdinand, who skippered Manchester United to Champions League success in 2008, is a composed centre-back, offering great physical presence.
Former German international defender Kohler tasted Champions League success with Borussia Dortmund in 1997. Famed for his defensive perception, physical strength and prowess in the air, he rates a place in the squad.
Former Welsh international Giggs made his 800th appearance for Manchester United in April 2009. At his peak, he was a left winger with devastating pace and well worth his place in the 18.
Controversial, former German international midfielder Stefan Effenberg led Bayern Munich to 2001 Champions League success. A particularly elegant player, with precise passing ability and a fierce shot he was the guiding light to Bayern`s success.
A 3-times Champions League winner with Real Madrid, former Spanish international striker Morientes possesses excellent aerial ability and has a good goalscoring strike rate.
Alessandro Del Piero
Juventus` second striker Del Piero is a creative, attacking player renowned for his free kick and penalty taking. Influential in Juventus` 1996 success and top Champions League goalscorer in reaching the 1997 final, Del Piero just misses out to Raul in the starting line-up.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE BETTING TIPS
In weighing up Champions League odds, the advice to punters is to focus on the teams, and, in particular, nations, that have been most successful in the Champions League since the inaugural tournament of 1992-93. Although Italy had no teams progressing further than the quarter-final stage in 2008-09, Italian clubs have contested 9 of the 16 finals played, with 3 wins for AC Milan and 1 for Juventus. Spain have 4 wins (3 for Real Madrid and 1 for Barcelona) and Germany 2 (Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001). English clubs have been resurgent in recent seasons, with wins for Manchester United in 1999, Liverpool in 2005 and the first all-English final, in which United beat Chelsea on penalties, in 2008.