Cypriot contenders Omonia AC are among 20 European title-holders who will get the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League under way today.
Group stage goal
Omonia will hope to surpass the achievement of last year's entrants from the Mediterranean island by going all the way to the group stage. In 2002/03, APOEL Nicosia FC narrowly missed out after losing 4-2 on aggregate at the final hurdle, the third qualifying round, to AEK Athens FC.
Experience could tell
But first Omonia must get past the first qualifying round and the challenge of Kazakhstan's FC Irtysh Pavlodar, who are making their debut in Europe's top club competition. While aware that his side's visitors are a "good team", Omonia coach Toni Savevski said: "My team's preparations are incomplete but we have more experience at this level." The winners of the tie will face Wisla Kraków of Poland in the next round.
First things first
Another intriguing contest sees Malta's Sliema Wanderers FC welcome Latvian contenders FC Skonto, with Danish side FC København awaiting the winners. "Our job is to advance past Sliema, and I think we are capable of that," said Skonto coach Aleksandrs Starkovs. "Either way, we need a win in Malta to avoid a nervous match at home."
Ready for anything
FC Pyunik of Armenia are confident of success at home against Icelandic team KR Reykjavík. Pyunik are unbeaten in eleven games in their new season, after an all-conquering 2002 campaign when they won the double. "I think we are favourites and I hope my players feel the same way," said Pyunik coach Mihai Stoichita. "We are playing in the Champions League, so we need to be ready for all sorts of challenges."
KR are aware of the task in hand, with coach Willum Thor Thorsson saying: "We have worked on our defence in training because we know we have to be careful and the main thing is not to give them any chances. Their players are well-trained professionals."
Big guns waiting
Among the other ties are HB Tórshavn of the Faroe Islands against Lithuanian challengers FBK Kaunas with the prize of a fixture against UEFA Cup finalists Celtic FC in the next round. Similarly, FC BATE Borisov of Belarus and Irish hopefuls Bohemian FC know that success in their contest will mean a tie against Norway's respected Champions League competitors Rosenborg BK.
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