FC Salzburg and FC Shakhtar Donetsk both have grand designs on establishing themselves among the European élite this season but something will have to give when they go head to head in the third qualifying round.
The giants of Austrian and Ukrainian football have done much on and off the field in recent years to become challengers on the continental stage. However, only one can go forward into the UEFA Champions League group stage. Shakhtar managed the feat last season but Salzburg were defeated at the final hurdle by Valencia CF and are determined not to suffer the same fate this time around.
Giovanni Trapattoni's men were commanding 7-0 aggregate winners in the previous round against FK Ventspils with René Aufhauser scoring four of the goals over two legs. Trapattoni had made sure his men avoided over-confidence but there was no chance of that before the Shakhtar tie as he was well aware of the magnitude of the task. "We want to be part of the élite. However, we have to get past very inconvenient opponents to do that."
Shakhtar showed their spirit when they welcomed FC Pyunik in their own second qualifying round tie. Having won 2-0 in Armenia, Mircea Lucescu's men fell behind with an hour still to play but, as in the first leg, goals from Olexandr Gladkiy and Brandão ultimately ensured a 4-1 aggregate success. Lucescu, who agreed a new contract until 2009 in January, said. "I think part of it was my fault. I was under the impression that all our players could play at the European level, but it seems I was mistaken because some of them are too young."
Shakhtar have been in Salzburg since Sunday to ensure the correct preparation, with extra training sessions on artificial pitches. Midfielder Igor Duljaj captured the mood by calling the first leg "a very difficult game". He added: "Our opponents play solid football and are on an impressive winning streak. However, we will try our best." Salzburg's Niko Kovač, whose defensive colleague Jorge Vargas is out for a month with a thigh injury, was equally pessimistic. He said: "We can only go through if everyone plays well and gives their all. If we have a bad day, we have no chance at all."
As before Lucescu's men will again play away first before the return in Ukraine. Although without the unfit Mexico striker Nery Alberto Castillo, the Romanian coach will hope on 29 August to avoid the "tactical mistakes" shown in the home return with Pyunik. He can also point to history and a 2-0 win with Shakhtar at Trapattoni’s VfB Stuttgart in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup group stage. That said, having won this competition with Juventus in 1984/85, the wily Italian knows better than most what it takes to move to the next level.
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