While past UEFA competition winners PFC CSKA Moskva, BV Borussia Dortmund and FC Porto are among a clutch of clubs who have one foot already in the UEFA Europa League group stage, the same cannot be said of several of the continent's other leading lights ahead of the play-off deciders.
CSKA – UEFA Cup winners in 2004/05 – ensured their place with a 2-1 defeat of Anorthosis Famagusta FC, taking them through 6-1 on aggregate. Their 4-0 first-leg victory was one which Dortmund matched at home to Azerbaijan's Qarabağ FK. Porto, competing in the competition for the first time since their 2002/03 triumph, have the buffer of three away goals, meanwhile, following a 3-0 victory at KRC Genk.
Villarreal CF, whose 5-0 defeat of FC Dnepr Mogilev was the biggest victory of the 37 first legs, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen – 3-0 ahead against SC Tavriya Simferopol – will also have one eye on Friday's draw. Dnepr Mogilev's Belarussian counterparts FC BATE Borisov, HNK Hajduk Split, PFC CSKA Sofia and US Città di Palermo could be forgiven for doing likewise following three-goal successes of their own.
The outlook for Sporting Clube de Portugal, Galatasaray AŞ and 1988 European champions PSV Eindhoven looks less promising, however. Sporting have the biggest task of the trio when they head to Brøndby IF following a 2-0 home defeat. PSV, meanwhile, must turn around their tie at home to FC Sibir Novosibirsk, who confounded their status as relegation candidates in Russia by triumphing 1-0.
The omens are arguably more promising for Galatasaray after they fought back from two behind to claim a 2-2 home draw with FC Karpaty Lviv. The Istanbul club recorded the same result at home in the previous round against OFK Beograd before posting a handsome victory in the return.
Three-time UEFA Cup winners Liverpool FC face a potentially awkward evening when they visit Trabzonspor AŞ defending a 1-0 lead, while their Premier League rivals Aston Villa FC will look to build on a 1-1 away draw at SK Rapid Wien and avenge their defeat at this stage 12 months ago. Juventus, three-time winners of the UEFA Cup, and big-spending Manchester City FC will be confident of finishing the job after first-leg victories at SK Sturm Graz and FC Timişoara respectively.
The 37 play-off winners will join holders Club Atlético de Madrid and the ten losing teams from the UEFA Champions League play-offs to make up the 48 clubs entering the group-stage draw, which takes place at 13.00CET in Monaco on Friday.
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