The countdown clock shows 341 days to next season's UEFA Champions League final yet today came the first official date in the 2010/11 campaign with the draws for the first and second qualifying rounds.
A total of 36 clubs were welcomed to UEFA's Nyon headquarters for what the UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino described as "the very start of a long and exciting road that will ultimately lead to the pinnacle of European club football – the UEFA Champions League final – where the winners will be rightly crowned the champions of Europe at Wembley on Saturday 28 May 2011".
A trip to London next spring seems a far way off, with memories still fresh of FC Internazionale Milano's Madrid triumph over FC Bayern München. Yet the four first qualifying round participants – FC Santa Coloma, SP Tre Fiori, Birkirkara FC and FK Rudar Pljevlja – and the 32 teams waiting for them in the second, stood at the very threshold of "what is widely considered the best and most challenging club competition in the world", said Mr Infantino.
"While you are still some matches away from the fully centralised and branded group stage – we have three qualifying rounds and one play-off round before that – you are all playing a big part in its history with this, the beginning of the new season," he continued.
"You can already be proud of your achievement having been crowned domestic champions and earned the right to enter today's draw."
The general secretary also asked the clubs to be mindful of their responsibility in protecting the game's key values such as Respect. He said: "It is also time, as we do at the start of every season, to ask all the players, coaches, staff, officials and fans representing their clubs to be passionate in the support of their team but to do so with Respect. In other words, to have respect for the opposition players, for the referees and officials, and, of course, for the opposing fans."
The first qualifying round matches take place on 29/30 June and 6/7 July, with the two legs of the second qualifying round following on 13/14 July and 20/21 July.
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