With some of Europe's biggest names lying in wait anticipation is mounting ahead of the conclusion to the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round.
The sense of anticipation in Europe's top club competition was ratcheted up a notch on Friday with the draw for the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. With the likes of AFC Ajax, Valencia CF and Werder Bremen all lying in wait for winners of this week's second-round ties the hardest task may be to keep focused on the match in hand.
SK Slavia Praha host MŠK Žilina with the tie poised at 0-0 and Ajax the prize for the winners. Swedish champions IF Elfsborg will be confident of earning a shot at Valencia after a 1-0 win away to Debreceni VSC, while Bremen look likely to take on NK Dinamo Zagreb after the Croatia champions won 2-1 at NK Domžale. Four former winners - Celtic FC, Ajax, Liverpool FC and SL Benfica - enter in the third round and they could be joined there by two more should FC Steaua Bucuresti and FK Crvena Zvezda prevail after 1-0 wins against Zagłębie Lubin and FC Levadia Tallinn respectively.
No let up
Steaua will meet either FH Hafnarfjördur or FC BATE Borisov in the next round – most likely the Belarussian side who lead 3-1 after winning in Iceland – but defender Dorin Goian insists his side still have plenty to do to get back to the group stage. "If we eliminate Zagłębie we'll treat our next opponents with respect because you have to have a strong squad to get that far," he said. "We cannot relax and consider ourselves through to the group stage yet."
FC København and FC Shakhtar Donetsk are also bidding to return to the group stage and both take leads into their second legs against Beitar Jerusalem FC and FC Pyunik respectively. After spending over €40m this summer, a place in the group stage is the minimum expected from Mircea Lucescu's side who would meet either FK Ventspils or FC Salzburg should they see off the Armenian champions. Shakhtar captain Dmytro Chygrynskiy is in no doubt of the outcome. "Our players are sure about overcoming Pyunik after winning the first leg 2-0 away," he said.
"Salzburg are our most likely opponents in the third qualifying round [after winning their first leg 3-0] and they are a serious club. We could have got an easier opponent, but then again we could have been drawn against a stronger team. Shakhtar are going to go through to the group stage. We're ready." Elsewhere Rangers FC could be without injured striker Kris Boyd away to FK Zeta as they look to defend a 2-0 lead while FK Sarajevo will hope to spring a surprise by knocking out KRC Genk after an impressive 2-1 win in Belgium.
Finnish side Tampere United have set their sights on a tie with either FC Astana or Rosenborg BK after beating PFC Levski Sofia 1-0. Rosenborg look the more likely opponents after beating Astana 3-1 away and Tampere coach Ari Hjelm is already contemplating a trip to Norway. "We're definitely looking for the third qualifying round and I'm confident ahead of the second leg," he said. Beşiktaş JK are flying the flag for Turkey and will meet FC Zürich in the next round if they press home a 1-0 advantage against FC Sheriff in Tiraspol.