Prestigious names lie in wait for winners in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round.
Prestigious names such as FC Dynamo Kyiv and AC Sparta Praha are among 18 clubs lying in wait for the winners of today's UEFA Champions League first qualifying round ties.
KS Dinamo Tirana were the first side to enjoy victory in the 2002/03 edition of club football's premier competition. The Albanian side's 3-2 victory at FBK Kaunas last Wednesday came two months after Real Madrid CF secured another European crown with a 2-1 victory against Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Hampden Park.
Three qualifying rounds
Dinamo are on course to meet Brøndby IF, the champions of Denmark, in the second of three qualifying rounds ahead of the first group stage, after coming from two goals behind to defeat Kaunas 3-2 in Lithuania.
While Kaunas may struggle to overturn their first-leg deficit, a number of clubs are afforded the luxury of approaching their second-leg ties with confidence following comfortable victories last week, notably FC Pyunik, FK Zeljeznicar, FC Skonto and FC Torpedo Kutaisi.
Ukrainian giants next
Armenian representatives Pyunik are likely second-round opponents for Dynamo Kyiv after strolling to a 4-0 win against Tampere United FC in their first-leg meeting. Zeljeznicar, meanwhile, appear well capable of progressing at the expense of ÍA Akranes following a 3-0 win last week.
'Aiming to win'
The Bosnia-Herzegovnian challengers have lost at this stage in each of the past three seasons, but Amar Osim, the coach of Zeljeznicar, does not see that occurring again. "We are not going to Iceland to defend our lead - we are aiming to win," he said.
Barry Town FC and B36 Tórshavn appear to have just pride to play for in respective home games against Skonto and Torpedo. Skonto's first-leg dismantling of the Welsh side should see them play PFC Levski Sofia of Bulgaria next, while Torpedo will be rewarded with a plum tie against Sparta Praha if Tórshavn fail to overturn a 5-2 loss.
The remaining five ties are all evenly poised. Ireland has two sides in action: Portadown from the north and Shelbourne, the champions of the Irish Republic. A low-scoring draw against Hibernians FC will see Shelbourne square off against Boavista FC in the second round after their 2-2 draw in Malta last week.
Build on success
Portadown's first-leg with Hibernians FC ended 0-0 at Shamrock Park, while another match to finish goalless was the meeting in Estonia of FC Flora and APOEL Nicosia FC. APOEL lifted their first Cypriot title in seven years last season and coach Egen Gerard is determined to build on that success against Flora.
'Not 100 per cent ready'
"We are not 100 per cent ready for this game but with the help of our support in Nicosia we can hopefully qualify," Gerard said. "Flora are not very strong but they do play the kind of game that we are not familiar with - the long-ball game with tall attackers."
FK Vardar coach Gjoko Hadzievski will be able to call on Mario Petkov against F91 Dudelange after the Bulgarian international missed last week's 1-1 draw in Luxembourg. All the pressure is on the Macedonian champions, meaning Dudelange coach Carlo Weiss is able to approach the game in relaxed mood. "Vardar go into the match as favourites," he said. "But last year we won against Skonto in Riga, so who knows?"
Looking to make history
FC Zhenis Astana, the first team from Kazakhstan to play in European competition, proved no slouches in Moldova last week when FC Sheriff Tiraspol needed a late goal from Vaja Tarknishvili to triumph 2-1. A similarly spirited display in front of an expectant home crowd could see Zhenis flying the flag for UEFA's newest member association against Grazer SK on 31 July and 7 August in the second qualifying round.