While Olympique Lyonnais and FC Zürich approach this week's play-off second legs with UEFA Champions League group-stage places all but secured, the other eight berths are far from decided as a few stellar names grapple to join them.
Europa League consolation
Lyon look a fair bet to claim a tenth consecutive group-stage appearance after they overwhelmed RSC Anderlecht 5-1 last week, while a 3-0 deficit appears insurmountable for FK Ventspils as they journey to Switzerland to take on FC Zürich. They look set to continue their European campaigns in the UEFA Europa League group stage with the other losers. Yet there is still all to play for elsewhere, with five of the ties separated by a goal or less.
There is certainly no complacency in the Club Atlético de Madrid camp, despite returning to Spain with a 3-2 advantage over Panathinaikos FC. "It would be a mistake to think we've already completed our task," admitted Atlético coach Abel Resino. It is a warning that gained further resonance in light of the Greens' 3-0 victory away to Ergotelis FC on Saturday. Neither ACF Fiorentina nor Sporting Clube de Portugal could muster a similarly morale-boosting weekend win, and Sporting's hopes of improving on a 2-2 draw in Lisbon last week have been hit by injuries to forwards Felipe Caicedo and Hélder Postiga who have both been ruled out of the return.
Celtic FC must overcome the weight of history as well as an Arsenal FC team in irresistible form if they are to progress – they must win away in Europe for only the second time in 24 matches. Like the Gunners, VfB Stuttgart and Olympiacos FC will also be big favourites as they too defend 2-0 advantages on home turf, against Moldovan champions FC Sheriff and Romania's FC Timişoara respectively. There is just one goal in it for three Champions Route ties, with Maccabi Haifa FC and Debreceni VSC both enjoying surprise 2-1 leads as they prepare to host FC Salzburg and PFC Levski Sofia.
The first legs saw 31 goals over the ten ties, but only one in Denmark as FC København eked out a narrow advantage at home to APOEL FC. The Cypriot side's coach Ivan Jovanovic believes his charges have the "heart and soul" needed to overturn the deficit, especially with Joost Broerse and Savvas Poursaitidis returning from suspension. However, Altin Haxhi is banned following his first-leg dismissal, and in FCK they meet a team in high spirits after what coach Ståle Solbakken called their "best performance so far this season" in Saturday's 4-1 victory over FC Midtjylland. The draw for the group stage takes place in Monaco on Thursday evening.
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