The UEFA Champions League could have a distinctly eastern European flavour this season should results go the way of some of the region's aspiring clubs when the third qualifying round gets under way.
AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti might have been speaking for any number of coaches of western European sides when he said of opponents FK Crvena Zvezda: "They are a tough team. They are a team to fear." Ancelotti should know. He was in the Milan side that only narrowly overcame the Belgrade giants in the European Champion Clubs' Cup second round in 1988/89. Nor is he the only coach with reason to worry.
NK Dinamo Zagreb are relishing their tie with injury-hit Arsenal FC, FC Steaua Bucuresti - UEFA Cup semi-finalists last term - will fancy their chances against R. Standard de Liège as will PFC Levski Sofia against tournament newcomers AC Chievo Verona. Across eastern Europe there is a wave of optimism with 13 clubs from the region contesting the third qualifying round. Of these, three are sure to qualify given the match-ups between 2005 UEFA Cup winners PFC CSKA Moskva and Slovakian champions MFK Ružomberok, FC Spartak Moskva and FC Slovan Liberec, and FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Legia Warszawa.
F.Y.R. Macedonia's title-holders FK Rabotnicki are the surprise package. The Skopje team, who tackle LOSC Lille Métropole, are the only side capable of repeating FC Artmedia and Liverpool FC's 2005/06 feat of reaching the group stage from the first qualifying round. Rabotnicki upset Hungary's Debreceni VSC last time out and will not be daunted by their trip to France. The list of former European champions involved at this stage includes Liverpool in addition to Steaua, Crvena Zvezda, Milan, Hamburger SV, AFC Ajax and SL Benfica.
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