Champions League ready to roll

Three sides make UEFA Champions League debuts as the 2005/06 edition begins with six first qualifying round ties.

By John Atkin

The 2005/06 UEFA Champions League kicks off tonight with 12 teams vying for a place in the second qualifying round where the likes of Celtic FC, RSC Anderlecht and FC Lokomotiv Moskva await.

Three debutants
Three sides make their tournament debuts, with Kazakhstani champions FC Kairat Almaty facing fellow newcomers FC Artmedia Bratislava in eastern Kazakhstan as they aim to take a significant step towards the next round, where they would play former European champions Celtic in the cooler surrounds of Scotland.

Skonto test
FK Rabotniki from F.Y.R. Macedonia also make their Champions League bow, taking on Skonto FC in Skopje. Struggling in the league, the Latvian side will be keen to mark what could be the end of 14 successive seasons in the competition with victory as they attempt to seal a date with Lokomotiv.

Trabzonspor tie
Skonto breezed past Rhyl FC at the same stage last term before being eliminated by Trabzonspor, and the Turkish team will again enter the fray in the second qualifying round. They await the winners of the tie between FC Dinamo Minsk and Cypriot champions Anorthosis Famagusta FC, who meet in Belarus.

Sheriff aim
Another Mediterranean side in action, Malta's Sliema Wanderers FC, tackle FC Sheriff of Moldova. Sliema were on the wrong end of a 6-1 reverse against FBK Kaunas at the same phase last season, while Sheriff reached the second qualifying round. Should they do so again, they will play Serbo-Montenegrin champions FK Partizan.

Anderlecht await
Belgian runners-up Anderlecht, who lifted the 1982/83 UEFA Cup, will face the winners of the tie between Azerbaijani club PFC Neftchi and FH Hafnarfjördur. Although away from home, the Icelandic champions appear favourites as their domestic campaign is already ten games old and they are yet to drop a point. Neftchi, meanwhile, will strive to repeat last season's brief success when they held PFC CSKA Moskva to a goalless draw in the second qualifying round first leg before losing the return 2-0.

Levadia advantage
The Estonian season is past its halfway mark and FC Levadia Tallinn will be looking to capitalise on home advantage against FC Dinamo Tbilisi of Georgia to close in on an encounter with Michael Laudrup's Brøndby IF. The remaining six first qualifying round first legs take place on Wednesday.

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