Champions begin title defence

Liverpool FC will face Wales's Total Network Solutions FC as the final six first qualifying round ties get under way.

By John Atkin

UEFA Champions League holders Liverpool FC get their 2005/06 campaign off to an early start tonight when they face Welsh side Total Network Solutions FC in the first qualifying round at Anfield.

Short break
It is less than seven weeks since Jerzy Dudek saved Andriy Shevchenko's penalty to hand Liverpool their fifth European title but the road to defending their crown starts early after Rafael Benítez's men finished fifth in the Premiership last term. It meant Liverpool did not qualify and required special dispensation to enter the competition at this stage.

Lloyd-Williams record
They will meet a TNS outfit determined to make the most of their lucrative opportunity. Much of the Llansantffraid-based team's hopes will rest on the shoulders of Marc Lloyd-Williams, whose 34 strikes last season saw him finish in the ESM Golden Shoe standings' top 30. Lloyd-Williams will have to be at his very best to get a goal tonight.

Repeat performance
Whichever side comes through the all-British tie will play either HB Tórshavn or FBK Kaunas. Faroese outfit HB, who are on course to claim a fourth successive domestic title, have home advantage. However, Lithuanian champions Kaunas, who conversely look set to relinquish their crown, will be eager for a lift and possibly a repeat of last year's 6-1 win against Sliema Wanderers FC at this stage.

Irish derby
Liverpool and TNS are not the only United Kingdom teams in action as Northern Irish title-holders Glentoran FC welcome the Republic of Ireland's Shelbourne FC to The Oval. With a date against FC Steaua Bucuresti at stake, both will want to take the initiative, and although Glentoran have home advantage, Shelbourne, already midway through their domestic campaign, have the edge on fitness.

Gorica seek glory
Slovenian club NK Gorica came within two games of reaching the competition's group stage last term before a 9-0 aggregate defeat by AS Monaco FC at the final qualifying hurdle. They take on Albanian champions KF Tirana as they attempt to better that run, with PFC CSKA Sofia of Bulgaria awaiting the winners.

Haka hope
FC Pyunik enjoyed a measure of success last season too, before elimination by FC Shakhtar Donetsk in the second qualifying round. They travel to Finnish champions FC Haka aiming to take a step towards a meeting with another Scandinavian side, Vålerenga IF.

Rapid date
SK Rapid Wien will tackle the winners of the final tie between Luxembourg outfit F91 Dudelange and Mostar-based team NK Zrinjski from Bosnia-Herzegovina.