Leipzig ready to spread their wings on big stage

RB Leipzig's Naby Keita (centre) and his team-mates celebrating his opener against Hamburg last Saturday. This will be Leipzig's first Champions League outing.
RB Leipzig's Naby Keita (centre) and his team-mates celebrating his opener against Hamburg last Saturday. This will be Leipzig's first Champions League outing.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BERLIN • Paris Saint-Germain have dominated the headlines with the transfers of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and Real Madrid might be favoured to win the Champions League for the third year in a row.

But it is German underdogs RB Leipzig who have supplied the most unusual story of this season's campaign.

Today, Leipzig will make their debut on the European stage when they take on French champions Monaco in the Champions League.

Five years ago, they were playing in the fourth division. After being promoted to the Bundesliga a year ago, they finished second in Germany's top flight to qualify for European football's showpiece event.

"Something like that has never happened before and it most likely won't happen again in the next 50 years," said Leipzig director of sports Ralf Rangnick.

Despite the financial support of Austrian billionaire and Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, Leipzig have continued with their strategy of keeping most of their squad under the age of 24.

"We want to keep it that way, and we won't be part of the crazy transfer race on the international market," Rangnick added.

After their unique journey to join football's elite, Leipzig were fortunate to be drawn in a relatively easy Group G containing Turkey's Besiktas, FC Porto of Portugal and last season's semi-finalists Monaco.

The last European game in Leipzig took place on Oct 26, 1988, when Lokomotive Leipzig crossed swords with Napoli and Argentinian superstar Diego Maradona.

Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuttl is relishing the challenge.

"For most of our players, a lot of things will be new. At the time when Champions League games take place, our players are usually already in bed," he said.

"We want to make it to the next round," Hasenhuttl added. "We want to surprise our opponents."

Monaco will be looking to bounce back from the 4-0 Ligue 1 defeat by Nice last Saturday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'Leipzig ready to spread their wings on big stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe