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Europe's big guns on road to Moscow

LONDON (Reuters) – The aristocrats of European football get the chance to show off their latest accessories when the Champions League returns to stadiums across the continent this week.

All the usual suspects, with the notable exception of Bayern Munich, begin the long road to Moscow, all believing this could be their year to reign supreme.

The first round of group matches are liberally sprinkled with heavyweight clashes, AC Milan against Benfica in Group D and the Group A opener between Porto and Liverpool standing out among the 16 games this week.

Holders and seven-times European champions Milan have fond memories of playing Benfica, having twice beaten the Portuguese giants to lift the trophy.

Five-times European champions Liverpool, boosted by the arrival of Spanish striker Fernando Torres, will be wary of a trip to Porto, having not won in Portugal for 23 years.

Despite being a regular for Spain, the 23-year-old Torres has never paraded his skills in the Champions League and is eager to make up for lost time.

"Everyone wants to play in Europe, to be among the greats," he told Liverpool's website.

"The chance to play in the Champions League and with great players is what matters. I want to contribute with my goals."

Porto's domestic rivals Sporting are also in action against English opposition when they take on Manchester United in Group F tomorrow.

Both sides have injury concerns with United defender Mikael Silvestre ruled out for the season with a knee injury while Sporting striker Derlei also suffering from a long-term knee problem.

Elsewhere, Spanish club Sevilla, competing for the first time in the modern version of Europe's blue riband tournament after back-to-back UEFA Cup triumphs, face a testing introduction at early English Premier League leaders Arsenal tomorrow.

Barcelona will look forward to unleashing Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry on much-changed French champions Olympique Lyon while the champions of Italy meet the champions of Turkey when Fenerbahce host Inter Milan in Istanbul.

AC Milan needed a stoppage-time equaliser from Alessandro Nesta to earn a scratchy draw with Siena in Serie A on Sunday but coach Carlo Ancelotti is confident his side will click against Benfica.

"Now we have to think about Tuesday. We are not afraid to admit we did not play very well, but against Benfica it will be a different story," Ancelotti said.

Of all the coaches, Chelsea's Jose Mourinho has arguably the most pressure on his shoulders.

Since joining the Roman Abramovich revolution at Stamford Bridge he has won everything apart from Europe's top prize.

Two semi-final defeats by Liverpool have left a sour taste in the mouth of billionaire Abramovich and the Russian will expect nothing less than a trip to his own capital next May.

Chelsea will be without Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard for today's Group B opener against Rosenborg Trondheim of Norway but captain John Terry spelt out the determination in the squad.

"We're desperate to win it as a group," he said on Chelsea's Web site (www.chelseafc.com). "We're born winners here and that's going to keep us going over the next few years."

Russia have only one club involved and CSKA Moscow could not have asked for a harder group.

The 2005 UEFA Cup winners are in Group G with Inter Milan, Fenerbahce and PSV Eindhoven, who they visit tomorrow.