Forty-three clubs begin their continental campaigns in the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round on Thursday, among them the surprise of last season's UEFA Champions League, APOEL FC.
Ivan Jovanović's team made more than a few headlines in 2011/12 by journeying from the equivalent stage of the UEFA Champions League to the quarter-finals, defeating the likes of FC Porto, FC Zenit St Petersburg and, on penalties, Olympique Lyonnais en route. Less than four months after scoring twice against Real Madrid CF at the Santiago Bernabéu, the Cypriot side return to action with a home first leg against Slovakia's FK Senica.
FC Viktoria Plzeň, who last term rubbed shoulders with AC Milan and FC Barcelona in the group stage of Europe's premier club competition, travel east to face FC Metalurgi Rustavi. Their Georgian hosts are one of 37 sides who last week progressed from the first qualifying round, in which Rosenborg BK and FC Twente also recorded comfortable wins.
The only former continental champions at this stage, FK Crvena zvezda, also face former Soviet opposition in Belarus' FC Naftan Novopolotsk. FC Anzhi Makhachkala's signing of Samuel Eto'o 11 months ago indicated the extent of their European ambitions, although of more immediate concern to Guus Hiddink's charges will be the challenge posed by Budapest Honvéd FC.
If Crvena zvezda, with 110 UEFA Cup/Europa League matches to their name, are one of the most experienced clubs at this stage, then FC Dila Gori and FK Čelik Nikšić are mere novices. Dila, whose European exposure amounts to a couple of UEFA Intertoto Cup games in 2004, face AGF Århus, while debutants and Montenegrin top-flight newcomers Čelik take on FC Metalurh Donetsk.
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