Red Bull Salzburg striker Erling Haaland enjoyed a Champions League debut to remember as he scored a hat-trick in the first half of their game against Genk.

The 19-year-old, son of ex-Manchester City and Leeds United defender Alf Inge Haaland, became only the eighth player to score three times on their debut in Europe's elite competition.

He also became the first teenager to score more than once on his Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney's hat-trick for Manchester United against Fenerbahce in September 2004.

Norway international Haland, who had already scored 11 times domestically heading into the match, took just two minutes to open his Champions League account before sealing his hat-trick just moments before half-time.

Rampant Salzburg ended the half 5-1 up on their Belgian opponents, with Hwang Hee-chan and Dominik Szoboszlai also on the scoresheet.

Maurizio Sarri has warned Juventus must escape the "illogical phobia" of previous Champions League campaigns if they are to prosper in it this season.

Juve travel to face another side Sarri believes can win the Champions League this season, Atletico Madrid, in Wednesday's Group D opener.

The Italian giants have won eight Serie A titles in succession but have not triumphed in Europe's elite competition since 1996.

They strengthened again in the close season, adding the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot to an all-star squad already including Cristiano Ronaldo as they attempt to end that wait for Champions League glory.

“We don’t feel this pressure," Sarri, who confirmed Miralem Pjanic is available, told a news conference.

"We are Juventus, every time we step on to the pitch, the objective is to win, but we also know full well there are 10-12 other teams who feel the same way and have the same resources as we do.

"At this moment, I don't see Italian football as the favourites going into the Champions League, as over the last 20 years we've lost ground. The fault for that goes to everyone, from presidents to journalists, everything that surrounds the sport.

"I think we need to face this competition with exceptional determination, but also a relaxed mind. We've got to get back to enjoying our football, without this illogical phobia.

"Atletico Madrid are one of the teams who can win the Champions League. It's difficult to fight against the Premier League sides, as they have so much money in the sport.

"Atletico lost an extraordinary player in Antoine Griezmann, but brought in one just as extraordinary in Joao Felix. Saul Niguez has made huge leaps forward and I consider him one of the best in Europe right now.

"Atleti have the players to beat anyone, but unfortunately at this level, you need mental strength, technique, tactics and a bit of luck."

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has told his players to show their aggressive streak against Real Madrid and banish the memories of their soft exit from last season's Champions League 

PSG were knocked out in the last 16 of the competition on away goals last season after a timid 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United having won the first leg of the tie 2-0 at Old Trafford.

Tuchel's side kick off their 2019-2020 campaign with the German eager for his players to show they have learned from the pain of that exit.

"It was a very long and hard phase after the defeat," Tuchel said. "We were not satisfied at all, but it is also necessary to forget and look forward. 

"I do not want to be too passive. Real Madrid will have the ball too. They are very strong, brave, they have won many times in the Champions League.

"It's a tough match, it's also a great match. I want to be aggressive and play fast.

"We had a lot of changes, with new players. We have gained in personality and experience. We have a good team. It's time to trust and look forward. 

"This competition is very difficult and we will see tomorrow already if we are able to give all the energy needed to fight 90 minutes with our supporters at our side."

 

Neymar returned to PSG's side at the weekend and scored a dramatic late winner against Strasbourg despite being booed by swathes of home supporters at the Parc des Princes.

Tuchel claimed there were never any issues between himself and the player. The Brazil forward is banned for the game against Madrid, one of the clubs linked with him in the last transfer window. 

"Between me and Ney, everything is clear," Tuchel added. “He is our player. There has never been a problem between me and my player."

Madrid are missing the experienced presence of defenders Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, who are suspended and injured respectively, at the back.

Los Blancos centre-back Raphael Varane believes whoever features for Zinedine Zidane's side will be able to handle the pressure of a high-intensity occasion.

"Experience is always a plus, but it's not everything," Varane said. "We know the difficulty. We know how to approach it. 

“We will try to be as serene as possible and show application in what we will do. We come with the ambition to win.

"You have to be efficient, kill matches when you have the opportunity. It is played on small details at the highest level. That's why it's so demanding. It requires concentration at all times."

Liverpool can cope with the pressure of being considered leading Champions League contenders, according to midfielder Fabinho.

The holders commence their trophy defence with a tough Group E fixture away to Napoli on Tuesday.

Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi scored as Jurgen Klopp's men edged Premier League rivals Tottenham in last season's final and secured the club a sixth European crown.

Liverpool had suffered heartbreak at the last hurdle 12 months earlier, losing to Real Madrid, but are now very much one of the teams to beat in Europe.

"[We are] one of the favourites, I think," Brazil international Fabinho told the club's official magazine.

"The reigning champion is always the favourite and given Liverpool's run of form over the last two competitions we must be considered one of the main contenders.

"But it doesn't put any additional pressure on us, we know how to deal with it, we know how to handle the pressure. It won't be a problem.

"The Champions League is the toughest competition in Europe with all the best teams involved. We'll do everything to qualify for the round of 16. It's a case of taking things step by step."

Liverpool enter the Napoli encounter at Stadio San Paolo fresh from a 3-1 defeat of Newcastle United in the Premier League.

The victory, along with Manchester City's shock loss to Norwich City, moved them five points clear at the summit.

The Reds claimed 97 points while juggling their Champions League run last term and Fabinho thinks competing on both fronts remains a realistic objective.

"It is possible, but it's very, very difficult, all the players have to be prepared and focused," he said.

"The team has shown that it is focused, has ambition and is prepared for this challenge."

Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold believes Napoli attacker Lorenzo Insigne is similar to Real Madrid star Eden Hazard.

Insigne's late winner saw Napoli edge Liverpool 1-0 in the Champions League in October last year.

The Italy international has made an impressive start to the Serie A season, scoring twice and providing two assists in three games.

Ahead of Liverpool's clash against Napoli on Tuesday, Alexander-Arnold talked up Insigne and compared the 28-year-old to Hazard.

"Obviously he's a really good player. He's someone who really helps them play football, understands the way that they want to play, really encourages the team to play out, able to hit [it to] him and he'll be able to hold the ball up," the right-back told UK media, via the Liverpool Echo.

"He's a really tricky player, really strong, fast, quite agile. He's kind of like Eden Hazard I'd say, that type of player who is tricky to get hold of and mark. Coming up against him is always a tough test but they are the things that you expect in the Champions League.

"He's a great player, probably a little bit underrated in terms of the respect and the plaudits that he gets, but he's a real fantastic player.

"I think his team-mates will say the same and the people that come up against him will say how tricky he is to actually nullify. He's a good player, they've got many a good player and we need to be ready for that."

Insigne has helped Napoli claim six points from three Serie A games to start the season, while Liverpool are top of the Premier League after winning five from five.

Jordan Henderson dismissed suggestions Liverpool were Champions League favourites, saying it was too early for such talk.

Liverpool begin the defence of their European title on Tuesday, making the trip to Napoli in their opening game in Group E.

But amid talk Jurgen Klopp's men were favourites to go back-to-back, Henderson played down those suggestions.

"I think it's too early to be saying stuff like that," he told a news conference.

"For us, we've started the season really well and we just want to continue that on. We still feel that we can improve and get better.

"That's what we try to do [against Napoli], we try to give everything and start the campaign off really well."

Liverpool have made a perfect start to the Premier League season, winning their opening five games to open up an early five-point lead at the top.

While they may be targeted as champions of Europe, Henderson said it was something Liverpool had to deal with regardless.

"I feel as though being at Liverpool everybody wants to beat you anyway so it's the same for us. We want to beat anybody we play, they want to beat us," the midfielder said.

"For us it's the same as it always has been which is to give everything in every single game we play and we know that it will be a tough, tough game [against Napoli].

"They are a great side but we've got to concentrate on what we can do and if we perform to the level I know we can then we have a good opportunity to win the game."

Liverpool will be without Divock Origi, who is set to be sidelined for up to two weeks due to an ankle injury suffered in Saturday's 3-1 win over Newcastle United.

That could provide an opportunity for Rhian Brewster and Henderson backed the 19-year-old forward.

"Rhian's been really good pre-season, he was really strong, in training he's been really good. It gives us another option," he said.

"We've got a lot of strength in the squad but he's been doing really well and he just needs to continue in that way."

Valencia coach Albert Celades backed his squad ahead of their Champions League clash against Chelsea, although he admitted their situation was far from ideal.

The LaLiga club stunningly sacked Marcelino, who helped them win the Copa del Rey in May, as coach last week.

No Valencia player attended a pre-match news conference alongside Celades on Monday, but the former Real Madrid assistant – in his first senior coaching job – backed his squad to get through a difficult period.

"I'm the coach here and I take the decisions," he told a news conference.

"The players have to adapt to the coach, it's a two-way street.

"I have experience of situations like that which they are going through. It isn't ideal, but I'm convinced that we will get through it well."

Valencia make the trip to Stamford Bridge on the back of a slow start to the LaLiga season, having won just one of their opening four games.

However, Celades, who played for Barcelona and Madrid, believes his side will perform in the Group H clash.

"I'm the one taking decisions here. Some may like them, some may not. I'll take the decisions I see fit. I've no fear, I'm completely calm," he said.

"Whenever a coach changes it is a process of adaptation for everyone. There is a need to gel, but it is a fantastic challenge.

"I'm sure we're going to do well."

Jurgen Klopp insisted Liverpool were not favourites for their Champions League clash against "cheeky b*******" Napoli on Tuesday.

The Premier League giants begin the defence of their European title at the Stadio San Paolo, where they were beaten in October last year.

Reflecting on that 1-0 defeat, Klopp said Liverpool's failure to adjust tactically was the reason for their loss in Naples.

"We talk a lot about intensity. The Napoli game last season was not intensity, Napoli was an organisation problem," the Liverpool manager told UK newspapers.

"All the things we tell the boys, it is all about intensity and how much we have to invest, but before that it is all about information. What do you have to do in these moments?

"And Napoli play a specific style. To make it very simple, we played against them in our defending like they had one number six but they had two number sixes, the cheeky b*******. We knew before.

"We told them they had two number sixes but then everyone came too late. We tried to change it in the game and nobody listened and nobody could change and in the end, we were lucky it was only 1-0. It was really this kind of off day."

The loss to Napoli was one of three away defeats Liverpool suffered in the group stage last season, although they improved on the road on their way to the title.

Despite being the defending champions, Klopp said his side were underdogs heading into the clash.

"We will have to invest whatever we have in the game and then we have a chance but we don't go there as a favourite," he said.

"Yes, we won the competition last season but it is difficult against the runner-up in Italy for the last few seasons, who is really close to Juventus this year and a really strong team.

"They are different to last year, not too much, but enough to have a view on it."

Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool do not feel the burden of being Champions League holders as they begin the defence of their title with a trip to Napoli.

Liverpool were crowned European champions for a sixth time in June with a 2-0 victory over domestic rivals Tottenham in Madrid.

Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti rates the Premier League leaders as favourites to retain their continental crown and Klopp is determined to create more history this season at Anfield. 

"We don't feel the burden of being champions," he said at his pre-match news conference. "It was long ago [that we won it]. 

"We haven't spoken about being holders. Until Saturday we were really focused on Newcastle and yesterday we had a session and today we had one. We spoke about the competition then.

"Will teams play differently against us? I have no clue. I've never won the Champions League before. I hope we are prepared for that.

"You cannot imagine how normal it is to carry on after the celebrations - if you have the right character. We want to create more stories in the future.

"If you start drinking and taking drugs, driving different cars and leaving your missus at home because you are a Champions League winner, then I can't help you."

Liverpool lost all three away games in last season's group phase, including a 1-0 loss to Napoli at Stadio San Paolo.

Klopp is expecting another difficult match in Tuesday's Group E opener in Naples, where the hosts have lost just one of their last seven Champions League matches.

"Last year we had a very difficult group stage and lost all the away games - we try to use that this year to do better," he said.

"Napoli had another really good season and have started the new one well. 

"They have some really good new players but are mainly the same. We are similar - we didn't sign a lot. Napoli are stubborn in a very positive way. They are creative. I enjoy analysing them.

"Can I be sure that something like that won't happen again? No, but the boys haven't given me any signs to think it.  Let's use our skills, stay in the game, fight for everything."

Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of left-back Andy Robertson for Tuesday's match and Divock Origi will definitely miss out.

"Robbo didn't train today and we have to see," Klopp told the club's official website.

"It is not a major thing, it was more precautionary today, but it is not 100 per cent sure [he will be available]. We will have to test it tomorrow and then we will see.

"Origi? We expect him [to be out for] between one and two weeks, but it depends a little bit on when he can deal with the pain."

Lionel Messi has trained well in recent days but Ernesto Valverde remains wary of rushing him back into action when Barcelona face Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

The Argentina star has not featured this season due to a calf injury sustained in pre-season but was named in the travelling squad for Barca's opening Champions League group game at Signal Iduna Park.

Valverde has been pleased with Messi's training performances but will not make a decision on whether his captain will start the match until closer to kick-off.

"We'll decide before the game," he said. "It wasn't very clear a week ago if he could come, but he was with the team in the last few training sessions, finishing well, taking the fear of pain out of his mind. We'll see what we do."

Whether or not Messi returns, Barca could well hand a Champions League debut to Ansu Fati, the 16-year-old who has taken LaLiga by storm this season.

Fati became Barca's youngest ever league goalscorer against Osasuna last month and marked his full Camp Nou debut on Saturday with a goal and an assist in the first seven minutes of the 5-2 thrashing of Valencia.

"I've not spoken with him, save for tactical matters," Valverde admitted. "I don't like the history of giving advice. Of course I will talk with him, but you have to give him some breathing space.

"What he is doing is exceptional. If he plays, it's not so he can break a record, but because of the needs of the team. We love him."

Barca have only lost one of their past 28 group-stage matches but are under huge pressure to perform this season after collapsing in the semi-finals to throw away a 3-0 first-leg lead over Liverpool.

Valverde believes Dortmund will offer a good litmus test for his side, as he looks to put the disappointment of the 4-0 loss at Anfield and the dramatic quarter-final exit to Roma the year before behind him.

"I expect a rival of the highest level, a challenger for everything in their country and in Europe, and a good yardstick for us," he said.

"It's a competition in which one bad day can knock you out, even if you have had a great competition until that moment. The two teams in the final last year [Liverpool and Tottenham] lost more games than we did. You can't neglect even 10 minutes."

Tuesday's game will see Barca come up against Paco Alcacer, who has flourished since leaving Barca initially on loan in 2018.

"Alcacer is a great player and he's showing that for Dortmund and the national team," Valverde said. "He's playing regularly with Dortmund. What we know about him is both an advantage and a disadvantage."

Carlo Ancelotti rates Liverpool as favourites to win the Champions League but has warned that his Napoli side have also improved since last season's meeting.

Liverpool lost 1-0 in Naples last October but won the reverse fixture to scrape through the group stage at Napoli's expense and went on to lift the famous trophy for a sixth time.

The sides face off again at Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday in their Group E opener and Ancelotti has targeted another victory on home soil against "the best team in Europe".

"Liverpool have grown because last season gave them so much awareness," he said at his pre-match news conference.

"On the other hand, we've also grown because we've added more quality to our squad.

"It'll be a hard-fought match as we'll be facing the best team in Europe. We hope to get the same result as last season."

Liverpool have built on their Champions League success by making a perfect start to this season's Premier League campaign, Jurgen Klopp's men winning all five of their matches.

Napoli conceded seven goals in their opening two Serie A games before Saturday's 2-0 win over Sampdoria, meanwhile, but Ancelotti does not intend to alter his tactics.

"We mustn't distort our identity and idea," he said. "We must take inspiration from the good things we've done and the problems we've been faced with.

"We defended very well against them last season and the defensive aspect is very important in games like these.

"I expect a team capable of defending when necessary, attacking when the opportunity arises and keeping the ball when needed. We'll need the perfect game."

Ancelotti has mixed memories of playing and managing against Liverpool but is relishing this latest showdown.

"My biggest disappointments and my greatest joys are linked to Liverpool," he said. "I lost two finals against them - one as a player with Roma and one as a coach with Milan, and I won one.

"They're a team who I feel affection for. Playing at Anfield is always a unique feeling for the environment that it creates.

"We want to be leading lights in the Champions League, but your progress is influenced by so many factors."

Lionel Messi is back in the Barcelona squad for the first time this season after recovering from a calf injury ahead of Tuesday's Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Messi suffered the injury in pre-season and has been unable to feature even as a substitute in Barca's first four LaLiga games of the 2019-20 season.

The 32-year-old returned to training last week and took part in the full session on Sunday, despite coach Ernesto Valverde suggesting prior to Saturday's 5-2 demolition of Valencia that Messi would not be fit enough to face Dortmund.

But ahead of Tuesday's Champions League opener, Messi has been named on Barca's squad list, meaning an appearance at Signal Iduna Park is a possibility.

Barca's start to the domestic season has been indifferent without Messi.

While they thrashed Valencia and Real Betis 5-2, those victories came after a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao and either side of a 2-2 draw at promoted Osasuna.

Youngsters Carles Perez and Ansu Fati have been drafted in to help alleviate Barca's injuries woes in attack during Messi's absence, and both players have impressed.

Perez has scored one goal in four outings, while 16-year-old Fati has netted twice and got an assist in just three matches.

Luis Suarez made his return to from a brief absence against Valencia and scored twice off the bench, meaning he could potentially be brought into the starting XI in Dortmund.

Once dubbed the 'German Messi', Marko Marin has found his home at boyhood club Red Star Belgrade.

Marin's European odyssey has taken him to Borussia Monchengladbach, Werder Bremen, Premier League giants Chelsea, Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht, Trabzonspor and Olympiacos.

Now, in Belgrade – less than a three-hour drive from where Marin was born in the Bosnian city of Gradiska – the 30-year-old attacker is playing a key role in restoring the global reputation of 1991 European Cup champions Red Star, having disappeared off the radar.

"Even more for me, with my childhood club because I'm a fan from a kid," Marin, a league winner with Red Star and Olympiacos, told Omnisport as he reflected on Red Star's Champions League qualification. "To play Champions League with them is even more special. It's a very nice experience to bring the Champions League back to Serbia after so many years."

Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Bosnian Serb parents in 1989, Marin – a Europa League winner with Chelsea (2013) and Sevilla (2014) moved to Germany at the age of two and 16 international caps for his new country followed.

Marin waited for calls from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia but they were not forthcoming as he opted for Germany – he was rewarded with a spot in Joachim Low's 2010 World Cup squad after impressing for Bremen.

While he represented Die Mannschaft, Marin's love for Serbian powerhouse Red Star – who snapped a 26-year drought from Europe's premier club competition last term – runs deep and a second successive season of Champions League football means a lot to the club captain.

"It's different because you play with more passion for the club," Marin said when asked about the satisfaction of qualifying. "You always give everything for the club you represent because it's your job and love football. But it's different if you play for the club you really loved as a kid.

"We have many players in the team like this. The foreign players maybe give us more quality but the main group of the team and the strength – when you grow up as a Red Star fan, many of them trained in the youth team. It's a bit different to play Champions League for Chelsea or Werder Bremen for example."

"After every game, Belgrade and Serbia is so happy and even kids outside of the country," he said. "I grew up in Germany and I was a fan of Red Star and when I went with my friends to school, you would always talk and I said that I'm a Red Star fan but they didn't really know. But now, Red Star are playing in the biggest competition in Europe. You make Red Star big again. They're getting used to it. This is a motivation.

"For sure this season, we will make some good games. Even qualifying for the group stage is a big, big success. If you compare with Manchester City, Barcelona or Real Madrid, their aim is to win the Champions League... ours is to qualify first."

Marin arrived at Red Star from Greek giants Olympiacos prior to the side's 2018-19 Champions League group-stage campaign involving eventual champions Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli.

One of the game's most promising talents a decade ago, Marin's switch from Piraeus to Belgrade last year barely made the news outside of Serbia. What could have been is a question often asked about the Bosnian-born German. But what does he think about his career?

"It's a fantastic career," Marin replied. "I played in nearly every big league for the biggest teams. When I was at Bremen, we played for the title and in the Champions League. At Chelsea, I don't have to explain how big this team is and Sevilla.

"Maybe it could be better, for sure. There are some reasons. Maybe I wasn't patient enough in some situations. Injuries didn't help to make it even bigger. But I wouldn't have this experience with Red Star if this didn't happen. I'm very happy with my career. To feel this what I feel at the moment, it's the best part of my career."

Marin, who joined Chelsea on a five-year deal from Bremen in 2012, added: "Who knows what would've happened if I stayed longer in Germany? The experience to play for Chelsea was amazing. To play alongside the best players, the professionals. [Frank] Lampard, [John] Terry – these leaders. How they train every day and the passion and quality. I saw this for the first time in Chelsea. I played before with very good players but that was another level."

Fast forward to this season and Marin's Red Star are preparing to welcome Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, 2019 Champions League runners-up Tottenham and Olympiacos to Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana – in Group B.

Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting home support in the Serbian capital, where Liverpool lost 2-0 in November – one of four defeats for last season's champions in the 2018-19 competition – as Vladan Milojevic's men eye a third-place finish.

"It's difficult for teams coming here because they don't know, they can't expect this," Marin said. "Before last season's game against Liverpool in the news conference I said you will see it's completely different. I know Anfield is amazing with a big crowd, but it's totally different to what they experienced in Belgrade. You cannot explain it.

"They go to warm-up and the stadium is already full. We were waiting to come out of this big, long tunnel that you don't have anywhere in the world. Then you go out and the stadium is exploding. It's not easy for visiting teams. We play 11 against 11 but when they feel this atmosphere, it's different.

"I hope we can challenge for third place. I'm not sure if would be a surprise if we take some points because people know us and how difficult it is to play at Marakana. Our strength is team work and it's even more so at home. Of course we have quality but the biggest strength is teamwork."

And what about the 'German Messi' tag? "I couldn't change this. It didn't come from me. We all know there's only one Messi and no one is even near him. It wasn't big pressure because I don't think they took it seriously when they compared me to Messi. He is the number one. [Cristiano] Ronaldo is another type of player. Maybe they see it as my ability maybe in one-on-one situations. I take it as a compliment but it's not a real comparison."

Maurizio Sarri has defended his decision to leave Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic out of Juventus' Champions League squad.

The pair were surprise omissions from the Italian champions' selection for the group stage of the competition, which begins next week with a trip to Atletico Madrid.

Can admitted to being "furious" and "shocked" at Sarri's selection call and said he was not given an explanation as to why he was overlooked.

Sarri has previously expressed concern about the size of his bloated squad and insisted at Friday's news conference that he made the "necessary" decision in leaving out Can and Mandzukic.

"It wasn't easy or pleasing to make the choices I had to for the Champions League list, but it was necessary," he said.

"I'm sorry because two important players were left out. However, these difficulties demonstrate the strength of our squad."

Asked if he expected the reaction from Can, Sarri said: "It's normal that when a player suffers from a strong and impactful choice that there's an emotional aspect involved. 

"We must give him the opportunity to let out how he is feeling. I'm of the right age to understand these kinds of reactions."

Can played the final five minutes of Germany's 2-0 win against Northern Ireland on Monday, having been an unused sub for the loss to Netherlands, and he may get the nod to start Juve's trip to Fiorentina on Saturday.

Juventus are back in action four days later when travelling to Atletico in the Champions League and Sarri is ready to make full use of his big squad.

"At this moment our attention must be on the league," he said. "Then we will think about the cup. 

"We are in a moment in which the team must take its own identity. We must fight the difficulty that is having many players who have played very little in the last period."

Among those pushing for inclusion is midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has not featured in a competitive game since arriving from Arsenal during the close season because of a muscle injury.

"A few weeks ago he was far behind his team-mates from the physical point of view," Sarri said. 

"In the last 10 days I have seen progress in training. He is not yet at his best but if his evolution continues he can soon return to a high level."

It has been a whirlwind 12 months for Milos Degenek, who played an influential role as his boyhood club Red Star Belgrade snapped a 26-year European drought last season.

Not since 1992 had Red Star qualified for Europe's premier club competition. But Degenek's looping header helped the Serbian champions to a dramatic play-off win over RB Salzburg in 2018.

In the international wilderness since soon after winning the European Cup in 1991, it awoke a sleeping giant. A memorable win over eventual champions Liverpool and an impressive draw with Napoli in a difficult group including Paris Saint-Germain whetted their appetite for Champions League football.

But after the highest of highs and bringing Red Star back to the pinnacle of European football, Degenek opted for a new challenge in January – Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al-Hilal. The 25-year-old defender played alongside Sebastian Giovinco, Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo. While it was a positive experience with one of Asia's biggest clubs in the Far East, the lure of Red Star and another Champions League campaign proved too strong.

"Playing Champions League then going to Saudi Arabia and coming back to the Champions League again, you couldn't imagine that," Degenek, who returned to Red Star on loan in July before signing a four-year contract, told Omnisport. "You dream about it and you sacrifice a lot for it to happen.

"Last year it was me that helped Red Star a lot in the qualifiers against Salzburg but it wasn't just me. It's a team effort. It's never just down to one player."

The Socceroos defender – who fled the war-torn Balkan region with his family in the 1990s, relocating to Australia – added: "I had the six months playing Champions League and then it was time for me to go to Saudi Arabia to Al Hilal, where I had a good stint. I played in the Asian Champions League and played with some unbelievable players. I had a lot of fun there, it was a good experience.

"But eventually things turned around and I ended up coming back to Red Star. I wanted European football again. I'm 25 and I believe I still have a lot to offer in Europe and I can show that to the world, that's why I'm very excited to be back. It's my home, it's the club I love."

Degenek is preparing for another Champions League campaign, this time involving Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, last season's runners-up Tottenham and Greek giants Olympiacos in Group B.

Like last season, Degenek played a big role in the play-offs. He scored a priceless goal as Red Star drew 2-2 at Young Boys before prevailing over the Swiss side on away goals last month.

"Obviously, we broke that drought last year. To do it two years in a row is something phenomenal. None of us could have dreamt that," he said. "Things like that don't come that often or easy. There was a lot of sacrifices made, a lot of difficult games and trips against big clubs. It's a testament to the club, players, fans, staff and coaching that we stuck together and achieved this unbelievable thing.

"Playing with the some of the greatest clubs in European competition with the greatest history. Obviously last season with Liverpool. Napoli and PSG don't have the greatest European tradition and history, but Liverpool does. This year again with Bayern Munich, it's something spectacular.

"Bayern are massive, Spurs are massive, Olympiacos are massive. I look forward to it. It's something I'll cherish like I did last season. Hopefully we can go one step further this season [and finish third]. With God's help and a good plan, we can achieve things. Experiences of last year can possibly help us achieve an even better run in the group stages."

"Zvezda has a rich history," Degenek added. "It's a big club, they used to be even bigger but we're getting there. We're helping the club and fans to dream again and still love the game. It's very important that we're improving every season."

Degenek and Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting support in Belgrade, where Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool lost 2-0 in November at Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana.

"It's unbelievable, [our fans] are like a 12th man on the pitch," the Australia international said of the support. "For us playing at home it's unbelievable. I don’t know if a lot of people in this world understand what it means. If you've never been out on the pitch, you never will but I guess Liverpool understood and PSG and Napoli did."

As for Stephen Warnock and the former Liverpool defender's incorrect claims that Red Star were "part-time" with "plumbers", for which he apologised after the team's Champions League qualification, Degenek is using it for motivation.

"It shows how much people don't care about us and that people think we're an unimportant team in Europe," the former 1860 Munich defender said. "That's why I'm excited and happy that we're bringing Zvezda back to the world stage. It motivates you. It's embarrassing an ex-footballer doesn't know about the 1991 European champions."

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