Champions League guide: Group C in focus
Each team in Group C will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.
The draw features three champions of their respective domestic leagues but it is the fourth side out of the hat who may well be favourites to top it.
Borussia Dortmund only finished third in Germany last season but still have ambitions to challenge Bayern Munich.
Retaining the services of Erling Haaland in the latest transfer window was a boon for new manager Marco Rose, and the striker will be key to their progress.
Ajax will be looking to reach the latter stages for only the second time in 16 years, while Sporting are aiming to prove that Portugal deserves its place in UEFA’s new-look top five leagues.
The Iberian nation overtook France in UEFA’s country coefficients after this summer’s qualifiers and have three teams in the Champions League group stage.
Sporting reaching the knockout rounds would go some way towards ensuring this remains the case.
Besiktas will be the outsiders in the group but have a shot at second place if they can take points off their Dutch and Portuguese opponents, and other results go their way.
Champions League Group C fixtures
Check back throughout the group stage for the latest results and match reports
Wednesday September 15
Besiktas 1-2 Dortmund
Sporting 1-5 Ajax
Tuesday September 28
Ajax 2-0 Besiktas
Dortmund 1-0 Sporting
Tuesday October 19
Besiktas 1-4 Sporting
Ajax 4-0 Dortmund
Wednesday November 3
Dortmund 1-3 Ajax
Sporting 4-0 Besiktas
Wednesday November 24
Besiktas 1-2 Ajax
Sporting 3-1 Dortmund
Tuesday December 7
Ajax 4-2 Sporting
Dortmund 5-0 Besiktas
Key fixture: Borussia Dortmund vs Ajax
There are plenty to pick from in this group but the meeting between two former European Cup winners — Dortmund and Ajax — will be the one to watch out for.
Not only because the fixtures between these sides will have a big say in who progresses to the knockout stages and who tops the group but also because both teams boast a number of the continent’s best up-and-coming talents.
From Ajax’s Ryan Gravenberch to Haaland, Jude Bellingham and Giovanni Reyna, there will be plenty of players to keep an eye on when BVB and the Eredivisie champions meet.
One to watch: Erling Haaland
On his day, Haaland is unstoppable and he alone could steer Dortmund to the top of this group.
The Norway striker, 21, is expected to have his pick of the top clubs in world football once he decides to leave the Westfalenstadion.
Until then, the German club will look to make the most of his time with them as they target ending Bayern’s Bundesliga dominance.
It is something Die Borussen have not been able to achieve since 2012 but they do at least have the comfort of Champions League football this season.
That was not always a certainty after inconsistency nearly scuppered their hopes of qualification in 2020-21, despite Haaland netting an impressive 27 league goals.
Breakout star: Ersin Destanoglu
It can often be difficult for young goalkeepers to make their mark, in a position where experience is often preferred.
This is especially the case at the highest level, where one mistake can be highlighted much more than numerous positives in a player’s performances.
But Besiktas stopper Ersin Destanoglu, 20, is already a regular for his club and appears on the verge of an international call-up with Turkey.
Though Besiktas signed Mert Gunok, who was an unused substitute for Senol Gunes’ Turkish side at Euro 2020, this summer Destanoglu has remained first-choice at the club — keeping clean sheets in all three league games so far this season.
He has all the attributes to be a top-class goalkeeper and will be looking to prove this on Europe’s biggest stage.
This is a difficult group to call. Dortmund and Ajax will be expected to progress — and Besiktas might be expected to finish bottom — but it would not be a surprise to see any of these four teams in the top two spots.
Portuguese title winners Sporting certainly have the potential to qualify for the knockout stages, and their games against Ajax will be key if they are to secure second place.
All information correct as of 10am, September 6, 2021