Eleven more places in the first group stage of the UEFA Champions League are up for grabs tonight with the completion of the third qualifying round.
Five teams made it through last night to join the 16 automatic group stage qualifiers. While the likes of FC Barcelona, Newcastle United FC, FC Lokomotiv Moskva and FC Dynamo Kyiv find themselves in seemingly commanding positions, it still promises to be a nervous night. For the losers, there will at least be the consolation of UEFA Cup football.
Leads to defend
Barcelona, semi-finalists last season, will be defending a 3-0 lead against Legia Warszawa in Poland, Lokomotiv have a 2-0 advantage over visitors Grazer AK, Dynamo will be defending a 1-0 lead in Kiev against PFC Levski Sofia and Newcastle will welcome FK Zeljeznicar after their one-goal victory in the away leg.
Barça have travelled without Juan Riquelme, who has a slight stomach strain but Victor Valdes will continue in goal and Fernando Navarro will play on the left of defence. "It's obvious the 3-0 lead should keep us calm," said Gaizka Mendieta. "But we have to respect Legia and we can't be overconfident."
Sir Bobby Robson will welcome back Hugo Viana, rested at the weekend, when his Newcastle team welcome champions Zeljeznicar. The Bosnia-Herzegovnians will be boosted by the return of their captain Bulend Biscevic, who was suspended for the first game.
'Task not completed'
Nigerian striker James Obiorah is a major doubt for Lokomotiv against Grazer, as are defenders Yuri Drozdov, Dmitri Sennikov and Sergei Ignashevitch. However, coach Yuri Semin's main concern is complacency. "I will hope to prevent this sort of mood, and I hope my players realise that the task of qualifying for Champions League is not completed," he said.
Dynamo will be defending a 1-0 lead in Kiev but have some injury problems ahead of the visit of PFC Levski Sofia. Their whole first choice defence is out injured along with Yugoslavia midfield player Goran Gavrancic but Andriy Husin and Andriy Nesmachny will return.
Maccabi Haifa will feel they have one foot in the group stage after their first leg performance against SK Sturm Graz. The Israeli team have a 2-0 lead thanks to Yakubu Ayegbeni's double but will need to be at their best in Austria to make certain.
One of the most intriguing encounters will see the Norwegian champions Rosenborg BK travel to Danish title-winners Brøndby IF with a 1-0 lead. A noisy home crowd will do their utmost to urge Brøndby to overcome Harold Brattbakk's goal in Trondheim a fortnight ago. However, Rosenborg coach Nils Arne Eggen is confident his side will claim the victory. "If it snows upwards, and it rarely does, Brøndby can win," he said.
Milan AC will be in a similar situation to Rosenborg, as they head to FK Slovan Liberec in the Czech Republic with just Filippo Inzaghi's goal from the San Siro separating the sides. AJ Auxerre, who welcome Boavista FC, also have a 1-0 lead but Djibril Cissé's strike in the first leg has the added advantage of being an away goal.
Club Brugge KV will be hoping in-form striker Rune Lange can propel them to a place in the group stage after their 1-1 draw with FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukraine. Lange has scored four goals already this season and is raring to go. "I hope I can help Brugge to get into the Champions League, it would really be a dream for me." Brugge will be without Philippe Clement again but recall Gert Verheyen.
AEK Athens FC will be defend a 3-2 advantage over APOEL Nicosia FC at home and will have all the confidence of a side with three away goals to their credit. The absence of key defender Marinos Ouzounides from the APOEL ranks will also boost AEK hopes.
Basel will battle
Celtic FC head to Switzerland with a 3-1 lead from an exciting home first leg against FC Basel, but the Swiss side are not out yet. Basel forward Julio Rossi said: "We were heartened by the way we managed to create chances in Glasgow."
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