With the FIFA World Cup over, club football returns to the top of the agenda as the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League season gets under way tonight.
Sixty-two days after FC Barcelona lifted the trophy in Paris, fourteen clubs begin their quest to reach the second qualifying round, while eight more enter the fray tomorrow. Among the teams taking part are FHK Liepajas Metalurgs, the reward for ending Skonto FC's lengthy reign as Latvia's leading side, and Welsh challengers The New Saints FC who were beaten by then holders Liverpool FC at this stage last year.
Liverpool and FC Artmedia of Slovakia both progressed from the first qualifying round to the group stage last term, and while that is ultimately the aim of each of this week's participants, many will be looking no further than a tie against one of the star names who will get started in the next round. Among those are 1986 winners FC Steaua Bucuresti, 1991 European champions FK Crvenza Zvezda, Fenerbahçe SK and FC Dynamo Kyiv.
The first qualifying round concludes next Tuesday and Wednesday, with the second qualifying round scheduled for 25/26 July and 1/2 August. Liverpool, 2005/06 runners-up Arsenal FC, Valencia CF, AFC Ajax and SL Benfica are among the 18 clubs to feature in the third and final qualifying round, with games being played on 8/9 and 22/23 August. The draw for the 32-team group stage will be held in Monaco on 24 August, with the competition climaxing in Athens on 23 May 2007.
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