Contenders ponder luck of the draw

Norway and Sweden's UEFA Champions League contenders prepare to face European debutants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia after Friday's draw.

Norway and Sweden's UEFA Champions League contenders are getting ready to face European debutants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia after today's draw.

Scandinavia's finest
Norwegian champions Vålerenga IF will travel to 2005/06 Czech league runners-up FK Mladá Boleslav for their second qualifying round first leg, while Swedish title-holders Djurgårdens IF take on Slovakian counterparts MFK Ružomberok, who have admitted they have very little idea of what might lie ahead.

Ružomberok befuddled
Ružomberok coach František Komňacký said: "We are ready to represent Slovakian football as well as we can. Our international experience is nil - we have only played Slovakian teams and have no concrete idea what to expect. The Swedish league is athletic as far I know, similar to the English Premiership."

Uncertain position
Aside from Austro-Swiss neighbours FC Zürich and SV Austria Salzburg, the other second qualifying round challengers are even less sure of where they stand, since they face the winners of first qualifying round ties. Ukraine's FC Dynamo Kyiv, however, know they will encounter the champions of another former Soviet republic having been drawn against the winners of Latvian champions FHK Liepajas Metalurgs' game against Kazakhstani title-holders FK Aktobe.

Metalurgs edgy
"To be honest, we're not overjoyed," said Metalurgs coach Benjaminas Zelkevicius. "It looks more like a match in the Commonwealth Cup [the annual Moscow tournament for former Soviet champions] than a UEFA Champions League tie. In Moscow we played Aktobe and won 3-0. I wouldn't mind this result again in the first leg."

Demianenko confident
Dynamo coach Anatoli Demianenko, meanwhile, was feeling determined. "We respect all opponents but a club like ours should beat anyone in the second qualifying round," he said, adding: "I can't tell who's the stronger of Metalurgs and Aktobe. We will know more after we see them in action, but for both those clubs, matches against us will be a matter of pride."

Common goal
Serbian standard-bearers FK Crvena Zvezda are, alongside FC Steaua Bucuresti from Romania, one of two former European champions awaiting in the second round. They will have an assignment against either Cork City FC or Apollon Limassol FC, from the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus respectively. Crvena Zvezda coach Dušan Bajević said: "On paper, Apollon are a tougher opponent than Cork, but every country wants to have a Champions League participant and we share that dream."

Major challenge
Former Soviet republics will also meet in the first qualifying round as Armenia's FC Pyunik and Moldova's FC Sheriff contest a second qualifying round tie against Russia's FC Spartak Moskva. For Pyunik captain Sargis Hovsepyan, it represents a major hurdle. "We're up against one of the best teams in the round," he said. "They are a very mobile and strong team whom we saw at the Commonwealth Cup. Sheriff have played Armenian champions before at this stage and won. Although we will do all we can to advance, it's going to be very difficult."

Smaller nations
Elsewhere, at least one of UEFA's smallest nations will be represented in the second round after Maltese champions Birkirkara FC were pitted against Faroese equivalents B36 Tórshavn. The winners will be rewarded by playing Turkish giants Fenerbahçe SK in the second qualifying round. Birkirkara coach Stephen Azzopardi told "Everyone at the club, including myself, feels we can make it to the next round. Whoever gets through will play Fenerbahçe so both teams will be doing their utmost to qualify."