UEFA Champions League debutants SC Braga and KAA Gent face tough opening assignments in the third qualifying round after being pitted against 2008/09 group-stage participants Celtic FC and 2009/10 contenders FC Dynamo Kyiv in Friday's draw.
Celtic harbour fond memories of Portugal having won their sole European Cup in Lisbon in 1967, but they will travel to uncharted territory in their latest continental quest. Portuguese Liga runners-up Braga make their bow in Europe's premier club competition and sporting director Fernando Couto, a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup winner with FC Barcelona and S.S. Lazio as a player, foresees the trickiest of starts.
"It's a difficult opponent, from the possible ones perhaps the most difficult," he said. "But we are now at a very high level and all the teams at this stage are big teams. It's a great opponent from a very tough league, but we have our weapons. If we want to be among the best we must beat these kind of teams. We are going to play in a very difficult stadium but I think we have a chance."
Dynamo midfielder Ognjen Vukojević, however, feels Braga's fellow new boys may have met their match. "I am very happy with the draw because I've already said before I wanted to play either Gent or Young Boys," he said. "I believe our class is significantly higher than the Belgians."
Francky Dury, who took over as Gent coach this summer, is unfazed. "The other possible opponents were also tough," he said. "Ajax would have been closer, but Zenit, Fenerbahçe and Braga are also very strong. It is nice here, I am glad to have made this step. I was ready for that. Gent is a step higher in quality and organisation. The team has to be ready to do well again this season."
Four-time European Champion Clubs' Cup winners AFC Ajax, Gent's conquerors the last time the Belgian outfit were in European competition proper – the 2000/01 UEFA Cup first round – face Greek side PAOK FC. "They have a number of South Americans, who are usually good players," said Ajax coach Martin Jol. "In Greece it is always hectic with the fanatical fans. That is why it is important to have a good result at home, to make sure you are not dependent on the hectic away situations."
FC Unirea Urziceni, a solitary point from qualifying for last season's round of 16, are pitted against 2007/08 UEFA Cup winners FC Zenit St. Petersburg in only the fifth meeting of Romanian and Russian sides in the last 50 years. It will be a first trip to their opponents' country for both teams, with the first legs taking place on 27/28 July and the returns the following week.
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