These five teams have found themselves amongst the European giants but expect no less than a big fight from these underdogsMention the Champions League and your typical powerhouses come to mind; Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich just to name a few. However, there’s so much more on offer during the tournament’s group stages. Today, we’ll sum up the continents underdogs. Though their names might sound foreign, don’t write them off just yet. Beware, underdogs bite!
|Real Sociedad (Group A)|
|Fans of the Basque outside have been taken on a roller coaster ride the past decade. From a second-place finish in the La Liga to life in the second division, they have endured it all. A superb campaign last season under former manager Philippe Montanier has propelled them back into the prestigious competition for only the second time in their history, the previous being the 2003-2004 season. Now led by rookie coach Jagoba Arrasate, the Spanish side have been drawn alongside English giants Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer Leverkusen. Though the team lacks continental experience, their style that combines both pace and power could prove tricky for opponents.||
Player to watch - Carlos Vela
Having struggled for football in North London, the former Arsenal forward has finally found a place he can truly call home. After netting 14 league goals last term, the Mexican has established himself as a key member of the side. Expect Vela to be Real’s main attacking threat.
|FC Copenhagen (Group B)|
|Though they are labelled the easy meats in their group, the reigning Danish champions have sprung a few surprises in the Champions League in recent years. Most notably, they made they knockout rounds three seasons ago, grinding out a 1-1 draw against eventual winners Barcelona in the group stages. Unfortunately, this season has gotten off on the wrong foot for Ståle Solbakken team. With only one win from eight games, they find themselves just above the drop zone. But Solbakken is least worried about their domestic form, and thinks that they have the potential to cause a few upsets against favourites Real Madrid and Juventus.||
Player to watch - Lars Jacobsen
The Danish full-back is vastly experienced having played in both the Bundesliga and the Premier League. Already 33, this might be his last European outing and he’ll be giving his best shot.
|Viktoria Plzen (Group D)|
|You might have heard little about the Czech side, but they’ll let their football do the talking. The defending champions are still unbeaten in the league this season after eight games, and made the group stages after winning all four qualifying matches. Two seasons ago, they finished third in a group containing Barcelona, AC Milan and BATE Borisov. This time round, they find themselves up against defending champions Bayern Munich, big-spending Manchester City and CSKA Moscow. Coach Pavel Vrba is realistic about his side’s chances, but thinks that their past experiences against Europe’s giants will come in handy.||
Player to watch - David Limbersky
The Czech wing-back is a regular feature for his national team and featured at the 2012 European Championships. With good passing and crossing qualities, he offers another attacking option.
|Steaua Bucuresti (Group E)
|The Romanian team are back in the competition after a 5 year hiatus, but have never gone past the group stages of the Champions League in the past 7 attempts. Yet, their exploits in the domestic league are highly contrasting. They are the nation’s most successful team with 24 league titles and became the first Eastern European side to lift the coveted European Cup, having won the 1986 final against Barcelona. Drawn alongside Chelsea, Schalke and Basel in Group E, Laurentiu Reghecampf team need to be at the very best if they want to avoid being the whipping boys.||
Player to watch - Federico Piovaccari
With 5 goals in 10 games this season, the on-loan Italian striker could be the surprise package of the team.
|Austria Wien (Group G)
|Even though the Austrian side have been a regular feature in the Europa League, this campaign will be the club’s first appearance in the group stages of the Champions League. Nenad Bjelica's side progressed through two rounds of qualifying before reaching this phase, beating FH Hafnarfjordur of Iceland before edging out Dinamo Zagreb. They are the nation’s second most successful team after city rivals Rapid Wien, having won 24 league championships. This season, they have been thrown into a challenging Group G, facing FC Zenit, Porto and Atletico Madrid. Though much isn’t expected from them, they’ll want to leave a good first impression.||
Player to watch - Philipp Hosiner
The 24-year-old striker had a sensational first season with the club, scoring 32 goals in 34 games. There was talk of a move to the Premier League in the summer, but Wien’s highly prized asset decided to stay on.