Six clubs will look to make significant progress towards the UEFA Cup first round when the first legs of three second qualifying round ties are played on Tuesday night.
Bulgarian side PFC CSKA Sofia visit the Cypriot capital Nicosia to play AC Omonia, and will hope to produce a positive performance ahead of the return match in Bulgaria on 26 August.
CSKA coach Ferario Spasov is under no illusions about the task in hand, saying: "I expect Omonia to be good opponents. They have a good history in Europe and beat [FK] Sloga [Jugomagnat] 8-1 [on aggregate] in the first qualifying round, so are in very good form. We must be at our best for both games and highly motivated if we want to go through."
The Sofia team have strengthened with four summer signings. Defender Robert Caha is the most recent recruit, joining midfield players Radoslav Zábavníc and Mansur Ayanda, and veteran defender Adalbert Zafirov who returns to the club after a season in Cyprus.
Konnafis comes back
Zafirov will therefore be familiar with the assignment that awaits against Omonia, who have also had a busy close season. Polish coach Franciszek Smuda has replaced Toni Savevski, while Cypriot international defender Petros Konnafis is back after leaving to join Anorthosis Famagusta FC in 2001. However, midfield player Nicolas Georgiou misses out on Tuesday through injury.
Elsewhere, Austrian outfit SV Pasching will seek to capitalise on home advantage against FC Zenit St. Peterburg of Russia. Coach Georg Zellhofer has brought in 28-year-old striker Nino Bulo from Croatian champions HNK Hajduk Split, while former Austrian Under-21 international Yüksel Sariyar arrived from Turkish side Kocaelispor and Eduard Glieder has returned from a loan spell at FC Schalke 04.
Pasching have played four games of the new Austrian season, but face a tough encounter against the Russian Premier-Liga leaders. "The pressure is enormous, but that's the challenge," said Zellhofer, whose side won 2-1 against FK Austria Wien at the weekend. "The victory was very important for morale," the coach added.
Vlastimil Petrzela's Zenit are one point clear at the top of the table after 18 games, although new boy Egidijus Majus is ineligible for European action as the Lithuanian Under-21 international defender played for FK Ekranas in the last round.
The final tie pits FK Buducnost Banatski Dvor against NK Maribor, who finished third in the Slovenian First League in 2003/04, a point behind champions NK Gorica. Maribor eliminated FK Sileks of F.Y.R. Macedonia 2-1 on aggregate in their previous outing.
Banatski are making their UEFA club competition debut, having reached the Serbo-Montenegrin Cup final last term but also suffered relegation from the top flight. Coach Radivoje Draškovic said: "This is a great opportunity for us all. We have a chance to make our mark in Europe. We will try to do that, although Maribor are probably better than us. But the home game is our chance: if we win, everything will be open and interesting. Attack is our best option."
Banatski will lean heavily on three experienced names: midfield player Darko Tesovic and strike pair Dragan Micic and Marinko Petrovic. The remaining 29 first-leg matches take place on Thursday, with the eventual victors advancing to the first round where the likes of S.S. Lazio, Parma FC, Newcastle United FC, Sporting Clube de Portugal, AJ Auxerre, VfB Stuttgart and Real Zaragoza lie in wait.
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