Gelsenkirchen - FC Schalke 04 get their UEFA Champions League group stage campaign under way with the visit of FC Steaua Bucuresti on Wednesday night (kick-off 20:45 CET).

The Royal Blues bust a gut to get this far, following a two-legged play-off win over Greek outfit PAOK FC, and now fully intend to make the most of the opportunity.

"Always a highlight"


"You always look forward to [Champions League games]," explained Schalke's Cameroon international defender Joel Matip. "Every player wants to play in European football's elite competition. We worked an entire season for this. It's always a highlight to step out under the floodlights and hear the Champions League anthem."

Schalke have had the self-same pleasure in two of the last three seasons, last term topping a tricky-looking group that included Champions League regulars Arsenal FC and 2011/12 France Ligue 1 winners Montpellier Herault SC, before falling to SK Galatasaray in the last 16. The competition gets no easier this time around, though, with Chelsea FC, FC Basel 1893 and, of course, 24-time Romanian champions Steaua completing Group E.

"It's an honour"


"I'm looking forward to the challenge," said Schalke head coach Jens Keller. "I've not come up against them before. Steaua are a hard-running outfit that go about their work really aggressively. They're not really the outsiders in this group. They played really well in the [UEFA] Europa League last season. We're ready for them."

Keller's excitement also appeared to rub off on summer signing Adam Szalai, for whom the group stages of the Champions League are an altogether new experience. "I'm looking forward to my first Champions League match," said the Hungarian. "It's a real highlight to play in the competition for Schalke. It's an honour for me."

Boateng experience


Should the occasion get the better of the 25-year-old Champions League debutant, he could always look to Royal Blue redeemer Kevin-Prince Boateng - a man whose performances have transformed the faltering fortunes of the club since his arrival from AC Milan and who Keller believes could make a similar splash in Europe.

"Kevin-Prince Boateng is an experienced player. This could be really helpful in the Champions League," Keller said, before reviewing the wider picture of the personnel department: "Christian Fuchs and Felipe Santana are back in the side. Only Tim Hoogland is missing from the squad [that beat 1.FSV Mainz 05 on Saturday]. Jermaine Jones is suspended."

Possible line-ups:

Schalke 04: Hildebrand - Uchida, Höwedes, Matip, Aogo - Neustädter, Höger - Farfan, K.-P. Boateng, Draxler - Szalai

Steaua: Tatarusanu - Georgievski, Szukala, Gardos, Latovlevici - Bourceanu, Pintilii - Popa, Stanciu, Tanase - Piovaccari

Christopher Mayer-Lodge