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Big hitters and debutants begin campaigns

The UEFA Champions League ramps up a gear as the third qualifying round starts this week with former European champions AFC Ajax and two competition debutants among those in action.

Big hitters and debutants begin campaigns
Big hitters and debutants begin campaigns ©UEFA.com

Four-time winners AFC Ajax and debutants SC Braga and KAA Gent are among the 13 sides joining the fray for this week's UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first legs.

The 17 second-phase victors, along with FC Basel 1893, RSC Anderlecht FC København, all enter the Champions Route for nations whose title winners do not do not earn an automatic berth in the competition proper. Swiss Super League winners Basel face 2009/10 group-stage participants Debreceni VSC in Hungary on Wednesday, the same day that Danish champions København visit 2008/09 participants FC BATE Borisov. Belgian titleholders Anderlecht go to The New Saints FC of Wales on Tuesday.

KKS Lech Poznań will look to make the most of their epic penalty shoot-out victory against FC İnter Bakı when they travel to AC Sparta Praha, while NK Dinamo Zagreb, so nearly the victims of a remarkable FC Koper comeback in the last stage, will need to overcome FC Sheriff of Moldova to extend their campaign. There is also a Scandinavian derby in store, Rosenborg BK of Norway travelling to Swedish rivals AIK.

The other path to the competition proper, the League Route, consists of five eye-catching third qualifying round ties. The European pedigree of Martin Jol's Ajax will be tested by PAOK FC, while new boys Braga and Gent face stern examinations against 1966/67 European Champion Clubs' Cup winners Celtic FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv respectively. FC Unirea Urziceni meet 2008 UEFA Cup winners FC Zenit St. Petersburg and BSC Young Boys are up against Fenerbahçe SK.

The 15 first legs take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with the second instalments scheduled for 3 and 4 August with the winners of each tie advancing to the play-offs. The play-off draw, where AJ Auxerre, Sevilla FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC, UC Sampdoria and Werder Bremen await the winners of the five League Route ties, will be made on 6 August.