FK Crvena Zvezda versus PSV Eindhoven is a highlight of Wednesday's ten third qualifying round ties.
Crvena Zvezda dream
Crvena Zvezda's European record since winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1991 is underwhelming, but coach Ljubo Petrovic is determined to change that. "Our club and supporters live for matches in Europe," he said. "This is our dream."
Dragan Stancic returns for Crvena Zvezda after suspension, but fellow midfield player Dejan Milovanovic is at the Olympics. A 53,000 capacity crowd is expected in Belgrade, where veteran Phillip Cocu will play for the Dutch Eredivisie runners-up if he recovers from a knee injury.
Former winners in action
Three other teams to have lifted European club football's ultimate prize are in action - Manchester United FC, Real Madrid CF and FC Internazionale - as well as last season's runners-up, AS Monaco FC, and their 2002 counterparts, Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
For this quintet, the pressure is tremendous. Slip up and they will be denied the prestige, and prize money, that accompany a place in the group stage. United have a tricky trip to Romania to face FC Dinamo Bucuresti with several first-team regulars, including Ruud van Nistelrooij, missing.
Inter also have concerns ahead of a difficult assignment at FC Basel 1893. Fabio Cannavaro and Christian Vieri are absent after starting pre-season training late due to injuries sustained at UEFA EURO 2004™, while striker Obafemi Martins sits out both legs with a knee injury. Forward Adriano's participation is doubtful, too, after returning to Brazil following the death of his father.
Madrid travel to Poland to play Wisla Kraków, who thrashed FC WIT Georgia 11-2 in the previous round. Despite being clear favourites, the nine-times winners are taking nothing for granted. "The Champions League is at stake and we are determined to qualify," said Ronaldo. "We are prepared to go full throttle to make sure we make the group stage." David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane have minor foot injuries but should be available.
Leverkusen are at home to Czech champions FC Baník Ostrava with managing director Wolfgang Holzhäuser labelling the tie "our two most important matches this year". Leverkusen forward Robson Ponte is full of confidence. "With our side we can beat any team in Europe," he said. "We have class players."
Monaco's opponents NK Gorica were sensational 5-0 winners at FC København last week, but the principality club should test the home side in Slovenia. Didier Deschamps, who led his men to last May's final, said: "We've developed a taste for the Champions League. These two games have great importance."
Hard to call
Rosenborg BK and AC Sparta Praha have both impressed in this competition in recent years and will be favoured to beat Maccabi Haifa FC and Ferencvárosi TC respectively. FC Shakhtar Donetsk versus Club Brugge KV looks harder to call, while those of a romantic bent should look towards Dublin where Shelbourne FC, shock second-round conquerors of HNK Hajduk Split, welcome Spanish giants RC Deportivo La Coruña to Lansdowne Road.
"There have been a lot of shocks in football this year with [FC] Porto winning the Champions League and Greece winning EURO 2004™," said Shelbourne manager Pat Fenlon. "Maybe this can be another one."