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Champions ready to step up a level

Published: Friday 18 June 2010, 11.21CET
From 40-year-old Roar Strand to newcomers FK Rudar Pljevlja, UEFA.com casts an eye over the teams in the first two qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League.

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Published: Friday 18 June 2010, 11.21CET

Champions ready to step up a level

From 40-year-old Roar Strand to newcomers FK Rudar Pljevlja, UEFA.com casts an eye over the teams in the first two qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League.

From 40-year-old Roar Strand to newcomers FK Rudar Pljevlja, UEFA.com casts its eye over the runners and riders in the first two qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League and looks back at how some of them got here ahead of Monday's draw.

Form sides: AC Sparta Praha, FK Partizan and FC Santa Coloma
The Czech, Serbian and Andorran champions all earned their places in the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds by winning their domestic championships without losing a game. Even so, Sparta had to wait until the last day of the season before claiming the title, veteran Tomáš Řepka heading the only goal against FK Teplice to edge out FK Jablonec 97.

Last-gasp heroics: Eran Zehavi (Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC)
The title race was even closer in Israel. Hapoel's Zehavi struck in the 92nd minute of the last matchday against Beitar Jerusalem FC to overturn a two-point deficit and snatch the crown on goal difference from Maccabi Haifa FC. "I still find it hard to believe we pulled this off," midfielder Gil Vermouth said. "It is more than a fairy tale and if I hadn't played in it myself I would have found it hard to believe."

Wise old head 1: Roar Strand (Rosenborg BK)
Strand made his European Champion Clubs' Cup debut in a goalless draw against KV Mechelen on 13 September 1989 and nearly 21 years on is still going strong. The 40-year-old has already played 103 UEFA Champions League matches, including qualifiers, and featured in Rosenborg's famous 2-1 win away to AC Milan in 1996 as well as scoring in a 2-0 victory against Real Madrid CF the following season.

Wise old head 2: Noel Bailie (Linfield FC)
Incredibly, Linfield FC centre-back Bailie made his European Cup debut on the same day as Strand in a 2-1 defeat by FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. The 39-year-old Bailie, 21 days Strand's junior, is now in his 21st season for the Northern Irish champions and made his 1,000th appearance for them last term.

Number: 8
Sides playing in the first two qualifying rounds that have competed in the UEFA Champions League group stage before: Sparta, Rosenborg, Partizan, AIK Solna, NK Dinamo Zagreb, FC BATE Borisov, Debreceni VSC and HJK Helsinki. Three sides advanced from the second qualifying round last season to reach the group stage: Debrecen, Maccabi and APOEL FC.

Newcomers: FC Koper, FK Renova, FK Rudar Pljevlja
The Slovenian, FYROM and Montenegrin champions have qualified for the competition for the first time after winning their maiden titles last season. Rudar, the only one of the trio kicking off in the first qualifying round, are competing for just the second time in Europe, having lost their only previous tie 4-0 on aggregate to AC Omonia in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup first qualifying round.

Familiar face: Nils Arne Eggen (Rosenborg BK)
Legendary coach Eggen is back for another shot at the UEFA Champions League with Rosenborg after returning in May to the club with which he enjoyed so much success. The 68-year-old was in charge for 12 of the 13 Norwegian titles Rosenborg won between between 1988 and 2002 (he took 1998 off) and led them into the group stage for the first time in 1994/95.

Magic touch: Antti Muurinen (HJK Helsinki)
HJK, meanwhile, will be hoping coach Muurinen can repeat his heroics of 1998/99 when he led the club to the group stage. It is the only time a Finnish side has got that far and HJK will no doubt be transferring videos of their win against SL Benfica that season to DVD as they look for inspiration ahead of the new campaign.

On the rise: FC Sheriff
The Moldovan champions were only formed in 1997 but last season claimed their tenth consecutive league title. After becoming their nation's first team to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage in 2009/10, they now have their sights set on the UEFA Champions League. After defeating 2010 Dutch title winners FC Twente and drawing twice against former European champions FC Steaua Bucureşti in that historic campaign, they are a team most will want to avoid.

Three in a row: Cyprus
Omonia will hope to follow in the footsteps of Anorthosis Famagusta FC and APOEL by becoming the third Cypriot side in three seasons to qualify for the group stage. The Greens won their 20th championship last term, putting them level with APOEL as the nation's most titled club.

Long wait: Lech Poznań
That was Omonia's first title in seven years, but Lech have waited longer still for their moment of glory, last lifting the Polish title in 1993. Robert Lewandowski rounded off the campaign in style with five goals in his last four games for the club before joining BV Borussia Dortmund as Lech overhauled Wisła Kraków on the penultimate day. The 21-year-old striker, who finished the season on 18 league goals, will be sorely missed.

Last updated: 08/12/13 6.20CET

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