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Leipzig relishing Champions League debut

Leipzig (Germany) (AFP) – Just eight years after starting life in the local leagues, RB Leipzig will enhance their rags to riches tale on Wednesday by hosting Monaco on the German club’s Champions League debut.

Backed by energy drinks giant Red Bull, who bought the licence of a fifth-division club, Leipzig began climbing Germany’s football pyramid in 2009.

They are widely unpopular with German fans, due to the commercialism they represent, but after four promotions in seven years they finished second last season in the Bundesliga to qualify directly for a Champions League place.

Leipzig make their debut against last season’s semi-finalists Monaco at the Red Bull Arena and director of sport Ralf Rangnick is proud of their achievement.

“When you think we were still in the fourth division five years ago, then the Champions League is another promotion,” said Rangnick.

“Something like that has never happened before and most likely won’t happen again in the next 50 years.”

This is a step into the unknown for Leipzig with only four members of their squad having Champions League experience.

Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg, plus new-signings Bruma, Jean-Kevin Augustin and Kevin Kampl are the only ones to have played at this level.

The quartet have a combined tally of 31 Champions League appearances.

In contrast, 17 of the Monaco squad have 236 Champions League appearances between them and last season’s semi-final defeat by Juventus is still fresh in the memory.

– ‘Massive occasion’ –

But Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuettl sees his team’s lack of experience as an advantage.

“We want to create a surprise,” said the Austrian on Tuesday.

“We don’t want to just turn up, we want to leave our mark.

“They are a team who have a lot of quality and aren’t easy to play against.”

Rangnick is confident of a winning start to their maiden campaign.

“If we can show our full power on the pitch, then we are capable of winning,” insisted the RB boss.

This is the first time for nearly 29 years that European football will be played in the former East German city.

“We can sense the buzz all over town. It will be a massive occasion, for the club and for our fans,” said captain Willi Orban.

“Tomorrow, a dream will come true for all of us. It will be an emotional moment when the anthem plays.”

The last time a team from the city played in Europe, Diego Maradona’s Napoli drew 1-1 at Lokomotive Leipzig, on October 26 1988 in the second round of the UEFA Cup.

Fast-forward to Wednesday and Monaco will want to bounce back after being beaten 4-0 by neighbours Nice last weekend in their first defeat of the season after four straight wins to start their Ligue 1 title defence.

It was the first time they have failed to score in 37 top-flight games. 

Leipzig are set to welcome back Forsberg, who missed Friday’s 2-0 Bundesliga win at Hamburg with a cold.

However, Liverpool-bound midfielder Naby Keita, who scored a superb opening goal at Hamburg, is set to miss out after picking up a groin strain.

“He had to break off training and he probably won’t be able to play,” explained Hasenhuettl.

In-form striker Timo Werner, who has scored five goals in his last four games and has been linked with Real Madrid, will lead the attack.

Monaco are missing France international winger Thomas Lemar through injury.

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