A trio of former European champions are playing for their places in the UEFA Champions League group stage when the third qualifying round begins tonight. Juventus FC, Liverpool FC and SL Benfica are all in action as six of the 16 ties get under way, marking the first competitive matches for these clubs' new managers, Fabio Capello, Rafael Benítez and Giovanni Trapattoni.
In the case of Capello, who led AC Milan to Champions League success in 1994, his Juventus side face Djugårdens IF without midfield players Pavel Nedved and Mauro Camoranesi and suspended defender Jonathan Zebina. Paolo Montero and Igor Tudor are also doubtful for the visit of the Swedish champions, who overcame Lithuania's FBK Kaunas in the previous round.
The last European assignment for Liverpool's new coach Benítez was May's UEFA Cup final, when his Valencia CF team defeated Olympique de Marseille. Three months on, Benítez is hoping to restore Liverpool's standing at home and in Europe, and his first task is to get past Austrian double winners Grazer AK.
Reds captain Steven Gerrard should recover from a tight hamstring to play at the Arnold Schwarzenegger stadium and his presence will be vital given the absences of suspended Igor Bišcan, injured Vladimír Šmicer and Danny Murphy, who is leaving the club. "We don't have the fitness levels they have as they've already played some matches and we have not," warned Benítez.
If media reports are to be believed, Michael Owen's participation and future at the club are also in doubt. The striker has yet to sign an extension to a contract due to expire next summer and Liverpool do not want to risk losing him on a free transfer. Benítez, however, insisted: "I have nothing to say about his contract. Michael has travelled and I can use him if I want."
GAK won their derby against SK Sturm Graz on Friday, a morale boost for Walter Schachner's men. Schachner, who has worries over René Aufhauser and Martin Amerhauser, described his side as "clear underdogs" but hoped they could do better than last year when they lost 3-2 on aggregate to AFC Ajax. "Maybe we'll be luckier this time," he said. If so, it will be a first success for an Austrian team against English opponents in 13 attempts.
Trapattoni names team
It is over 40 years since Benfica won the European Champion Clubs' Cup - and six seasons since they were in the group stage. Coach Trapattoni, a European champion with Juventus in 1985, named his starting lineup to face RSC Anderlecht 24 hours in advance of his first match at the Estádio da Luz and handed debuts to goalkeeper Yannick and full-back Alessandro Dos Santos. Trapattoni said: "Anderlecht are a very dangerous team on the break."
Nuno Gomes, Carlitos, Alcides, Geovanni, Anderson Luis Da Silva and Mantorras are unavailable. Anderlecht coach Hugo Broos, meanwhile, is expected to make changes after the 2-0 defeat by R. Excelsior Mouscron on Friday. Pär Zetterberg and Junior could lose their places in midfield to Walter Baseggio and Govran Lovre, but "the defence will stay the same" according to Broos.
Elsewhere, the Toumba stadium is a 28,000 sell-out for PAOK FC's home leg against Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC. Dimitrios Salpingidis has delayed joining Greece's Olympic squad and the same goes for Ghanaian international John Pantsil who will feature for the visitors.
Trabzonspor miss trio
FC Dynamo Kyiv entertain Turkish outfit Trabzonspor, who overcame Skonto FC in the last round but will be without three first-team regulars in Volkan Bekiroglu, Erdinç Yavuz and Tolga Seyhan. In the night's final match, PFC CSKA Moskva turn their attentions to Scottish raiders Rangers FC having overcome PFC Neftchi last week.
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