Winners Real dominate Champions League shortlist
SIX Real Madrid players have made Uefa’s shortlist for the best footballers in each positional category who played in the Champions League last season, the sport’s European governing body said yesterday.
Spanish champions Real, who won Europe’s elite club competition for the second year in a row, were awarded half the total slots on the shortlist.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the tournament’s top scorer, was named among the three best forwards of the 2016-17 campaign alongside his Barcelona rival Lionel Messi and Juventus’s Argentine striker Paulo Dybala.
The best midfielder is sure to be from Real with their trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric the only names shortlisted.
Real full-back Marcelo and centre- back Sergio Ramos have been named in the best defender category alongside Juventus’s Leonardo Bonucci, who has since moved to AC Milan.
Goalkeeper is the only category where Real do not have a single contender, with Juventus stopper Gianluigi Buffon, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer and Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak in contention.
The winners will be announced at the 2017/ 18 Champions League group stage draw on August 24 along with the Men’s and Women’s Player of the Year honours.
The nominees were selected by a jury of 32 coaches from last year’s Champions League participants and 55 journalists chosen by the European Sports Media (ESM) group.
Uefa will announce the Eur- opa League Player of the Season award on August 25 with all three nominees – striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba – chosen from last year’s winning Manchester United team.
Meanwhile Napoli will have to overcome French side Nice if they are to end Italy’s dismal record in the Cham- pions League playoff round following the draw made by Uefa yesterday.
Serie A teams have been beaten in the playoff round for the last three seasons and six times in the last eight with Napoli among the victims in 2014 when they lost to Athletic Bilbao.
Napoli, which finished third in Serie A last season and reached the round of 16 in the Champions League, will play the first leg at home.
Nice, whose attack is spearheaded by maverick Italian striker Mario Balotelli, have never reached the group stage although they qualified for the old European Cup in 1956 and 1959.
English Premier League side Liverpool were also handed a tough draw against Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim, another team aiming to reach the lucrative group stage for the first time. The Germans will be at home in the first leg.
Sevilla face Istanbul Basaksehir while CSKA Moscow meet Swiss side Young Boys and Portugal’s Sporting take on FCSB, which were formerly known as Steaua Bucharest and won the old European Cup in 1986.
Scottish champions Celtic, also former European champions, will have to make the long journey to Kazakhstan for the return leg of their tie after a draw against FC Astana.
Qarabag, bidding to become the first Azeri side to reach the group stage, meet FC Copenhagen while Greek side Olympiakos host Rijeka, surprise champions of Croatia last season.
The winners of the 10 ties will join 22 teams that have qualified directly for the group stage which will be played between September and December.