AJ Auxerre coach Jean Fernandez has warned his side to expect "determined" opposition when they visit OFK Beograd tonight for the first leg of their UEFA Cup second qualifying round tie. AC Omonia host PFC Litex Lovech in the evening's other match, ahead of the rest of the first-leg games on Thursday.
Auxerre cruised past Romania's FC Farul Constanta in the UEFA Intertoto Cup to earn a fifth consecutive UEFA Cup campaign, but otherwise have struggled against eastern opposition in recent years. Last season they were knocked out by PFC Levski Sofia in the first round, and in 2004/05 PFC CSKA Moskva came out on top in the quarter-finals en route to lifting the trophy. Auxerre drew their Ligue 1 opener at home to Valenciennes FC and will hope to improve on that result tonight when centre-back Younes Kaboul will be available after being rested at the weekend. "We want to reach the latter stages of the competition and that's what we intend to do even though the league is the priority," Fernandez said. "I have seen OFK on DVD and they are a determined team, especially at home."
OFK, who began their domestic programme on Saturday with a 2-1 win at FK Zemun, fell at this stage to PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv 1936 last term and will seek to progress in the UEFA Cup for the first time since 1973/74, the season after they reached the quarter-finals. After more than 50 continental fixtures, this will be the Belgrade side's first hosting of French opposition. Coach Slobodan Krčmarević, who has a full squad other than midfielder Ajazdin Nuhi, signed after the deadline, watched Auxerre play Valenciennes. "They played very quick football," he said. "Benoît Cheyrou created the play in midfield, while Luigi Pieroni is their most dangerous forward. I'm optimistic though. My young players need a chance to prove their worth and a European tie is the ideal opportunity."
Cypriot team Omonia are in their third successive UEFA Cup campaign and want to avoid a third straight exit at this stage. Two seasons ago it was another Bulgarian side, PFC CSKA Sofia, that eliminated Omonia, who this time defeated HNK Rijeka in the first qualifying round. Litex, for their part, comfortably overcame Slovenia's FC Koper and will strive at least to equal last term's run to the last 32. Litex, who won their opening league game against PFC Spartak Varna on Friday, have entered this tournament every year since 2000/01 and are coached by Ljupko Petrović, who led FK Crvena Zvezda to victory in the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1991.
The other 30 ties are played on Thursday night, with all the returns a fortnight hence, the 32 winners joining 48 other teams in the first-round draw to compete for 40 group-stage places. Among Thursday's games Olympique de Marseille, one of eleven sides to have advanced to the UEFA Cup from the UEFA Intertoto Cup, meet BSC Young Boys. Both matches scheduled for Israel will be staged on neutral territory for security reasons - Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC take on NK Domžale of Slovenia in the Dutch city of Tilburg, and Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC face PFC Lokomotiv Sofia in Senec, Slovakia.
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