The final eight places in this season's UEFA Champions League group stage are up for grabs tonight, with three former European champions looking to seal their qualification.
AFC Ajax, Manchester United FC and FC Internazionale Milano are well placed to progress after good results in the first legs of their third qualifying round ties. Ajax set themselves up nicely with a 2-2 draw in Denmark against a Brøndby IF side coached by one of their former stars, Michael Laudrup.
United, the 1998/99 winners, need only avoid a heavy defeat at Hungarian champions Debreceni VSC after winning 3-0 at home, while Inter secured an impressive 2-0 victory against FC Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine to make their task a comfortable one at the San Siro.
After FC Artmedia Bratislava, SK Rapid Wien, FC Thun, Udinese Calcio and Real Betis Balompié qualified for the group stage for the first time last night, six more potential newcomers have the chance to join them, with one game guaranteed to see a club make its first step into the Champions League proper.
Would-be debutants Villarreal CF are in the driving seat in their tie against Everton FC after a 2-1 triumph at Goodison Park but goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa is not getting complacent, saying: "For Everton it is a question of kill or be killed. We have to take the same approach because there is so much at stake and we are only a step away from achieving something very important."
Elsewhere, Vålerenga IF will become the third Norwegian team to reach the group stage provided they protect their 1-0 first-leg lead at Club Brugge KV, while SK Slavia Praha will hope to overturn a 2-1 deficit against RSC Anderlecht in the Czech Republic.
Of the remaining first-timers, Hungarian champions Debrecen need a minor miracle to overcome United by more than three goals at home, while having lost 2-1 against Rangers FC in Cyprus, Anorthosis Famagusta FC face a tough night at Ibrox.
The final game of the evening sees FC Basel 1893, who proved a thorn in the side of bigger clubs in the 2002/03 Champions League, attempt to defend a 2-1 advantage away to Werder Bremen. Miroslav Klose's away goal from the first leg may be a menace for Christian Gross's team.
The draw for the group stage will take place on Thursday. Beaten sides from the third qualifying round will have the consolation of a UEFA Cup place.
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