Sixty-four teams from across Europe meet tonight as they attempt to get their names into the draw for the UEFA Cup first round in Monaco on Friday.
'We have to score'
The conclusion of the second qualifying round includes two games involving clubs from Romania and Serbia and Montenegro. FC Otelul Galati travel to Belgrade to face FK Partizan after neither team was able to take the initiative in the first leg two weeks ago. Partizan were surprised at the quality of their opponents but a 5-0 league win against FK Hajduk Kula at the weekend has provided a lift. "I thought Otelul would be an easier nut to crack," coach Vladimir Vermezovic said, "but by the end of the game, I was afraid of what they might do." According to veteran defender Stefan Nanu, Otelul's task is simple: "We have to score."
While Otelul arrive in Belgrade, Partizan's city rivals FK Železnik head in the opposite direction, to FC Steaua Bucuresti, with the difficult task of scoring three goals after a 4-2 home defeat. Both they and Partizan could be upstaged, however, if Serbo-Montenegrin second division outfit FK Buducnost Banatski Dvor can overturn a one-goal deficit against NK Maribor in Slovenia. Their team is in optimistic mood too. "Maribor won the first match, but they were no better than us," captain Željko Miloševic said.
'On the verge'
One of the most intriguing fixtures sees Croatian side HNK Rijeka welcome Gençlerbirligi SK. The Turkish club lead 1-0 but will have to come through a tough game if they are to repeat last season's successful run. Their coach, Erdogan Arica, has hinted his team will try to stifle their opponents: "In order to score at home, we played attacking football. Things will be different here." But his Rijeka counterpart, Elvis Scoria, knows a solitary goal would be enough. "If we score, we'll be on the verge of the next round," he said. Theirs is one of 13 ties where a goal or less separates the sides.
The first Arab club to play in European competition, Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin FC of Israel, are on the verge of advancing to the next round, taking a 3-0 advantage to Albania to play FK Partizani. The size of their achievement is not lost on chairman Ma'azen Ghnaim. "I'm very hopeful. I have my suit with me in the bag and I hope to give it an airing after the match with a trip to Monaco."
Thirty-two teams will progress to the first round proper, where 48 clubs - including the three UEFA Intertoto Cup winners and the 16 sides eliminated from the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round - lie in wait. Forty clubs will then advance into the group stage, introduced for this season.
The winners, runners-up and third-placed teams from each group go into the last 32 where they are joined by the eight third-placed sides from the Champions League group stage. At this point, the traditional two-match format is used with the exception of the final, to be played at the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon on 18 May 2005.
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