Of the seven former European Champion Clubs' Cup winners in today's third qualifying round draw, Internazionale FC were handed the most parlous route into the group stages of the UEFA Champions League after being pitted against Sporting Clube de Portugal.
Sporting, the first team drawn meaning they will have home advantage in the first leg, were the side the 16 seeded clubs wanted to avoid after they won their 22nd Portuguese championship last season. The fixture allows for a fascinating contest between two Brazilian strikers: Ronaldo, the leading scorer at the recent FIFA World Cup, and Sporting's prolific marksman Mario Jardel, winner of the European Golden Shoe.
Inter's city rivals Milan AC, second only to reigning champions Real Madrid CF in the all-time winners list, having won the competition on five occasions, also face a tricky two-legged encounter after they were paired with FC Slovan Liberec, the champions of the Czech Republic.
Old Trafford final
Like Inter, Manchester United FC are eyeing their third European crown. Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who will meet either Zalaegerszegi TE or NK Zagreb, one of 14 second-round matches still to be played, have an extra incentive for succeeding this season as the Champions League final will bring the curtain down on what promises to be a thrilling season at their Old Trafford stadium on 28 May 2003.
Final seeded team
The first British club to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup, Celtic FC, were the final seeded team in the draw. That enabled the Scottish champions to avoid a meeting with a European powerhouse and the 1967 winners will fancy their chances of reaching the first group stage for the second season in succession after being paired with FC Basel or MŠK Zilina.
Tough task for Feyenoord
Four-times winners FC Bayern München, who last tasted European success in 2001, will square off against Swedish champions Hammarby IF FF or FK Partizan of Yugoslavia. Another eye-catching tie pits Feyenoord, winners of the UEFA Cup last season and European champions in 1970, against Fenerbahçe SK, conquerors of Rangers FC at this stage last season. The Turkish side will be out to improve on last season's Champions League showing when they became only the second team in the history of the competition to lose all six first group stage games.
FC Barcelona, who have lifted the continent's greatest club trophy on only one occasion, in 1992, could meet Polish opposition at this stage for the second year in succession after being drawn against Legia Warszawa or FK Vardar. The Catalan giants eliminated TS Wisla Kraków in the third qualifying round in 2001 en route to an eventual semi-final defeat by Madrid.
An all-Scandinavian affair is in prospect after Norwegian title winners Rosenborg BK were drawn against Danish champions Brøndy IF or KS Dinamo Tirana of Albania. Another 'derby' could see Greek runners-up AEK Athens tackling APOEL Nicosia FC from nearby Cyprus or Slovenian challengers NK Maribor. FC Lokomotiv Moscow will be FC Sheriff Tiraspol's third-round opponents if the Moldovans account for Grazer AK of Austria.
Hibernians FC, the Maltese side who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Shelbourne FC in their first-round tie on Wednesday, face the gargantuan task of seeing off Boavista FC and AJ Auxerre, home of French sensation Djibril Cissé, to complete what would be a remarkable journey into the group stages.
The final matches see Lillestrøm SK or NK Zeljeznicar host Newcastle United FC of England in the first leg of their tie, while SK Sturm Graz, spirited performers in the 2000/01 Champions League, will come up against either Israeli or Belarussian opposition after they were drawn against Maccabi Haifa or FC Belshina Bobruisk.
Group stage incentive
The first leg of the second qualifying round matches will be played next Wednesday, with the second legs following a week later on 7 August. The Champions League third qualifying round will be played on 13/14 August and 27/28 August. The winners of these ties will go forward to the first group stage where they will join the 16 clubs which gained automatic entry.
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