Benfica challenge for Lazio

S.S. Lazio's tie with SL Benfica is the pick of the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round draw.

Busy Romans
Lazio, winners of the last UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1999, finished fourth in Serie A last season. The Roman club have been busy in the transfer market since, signing among others the former Italy midfield player Demetrio Albertini, while Gaizka Mendieta has returned to the club after a loan spell at FC Barcelona.

Portuguese look for inspiration
Benfica, last season's Portuguese runners-up, will be looking to re-establish themselves in their first campaign in Europe's premier club competition since 1998/99. Benfica, who lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1961 and 1962, will hope the likes of Zlatko Zahovic and Simão Sabrosa can help them reach the 32-team group stage, which will precede a 16-team knockout phase in this year's revamped tournament.

Proud to be involved
Speaking to uefa.com, António Simões, Benfica's general manager, said: "It is a nice feeling that Benfica are coming back to the highest level of European football. I wish we had been luckier with the draw but we will play against one of the biggest clubs in Europe which makes us very proud. It will be a difficult task but with a bit of luck we could find ourselves in the group stage."

Difficult draw
Meanwhile, Lazio director Giovanni Gardini told uefa.com: "It is a very difficult draw for us. We are playing one of the best teams in Europe. It is important that we first have a good match in Rome. The draw has decided what it has decided and we have to win. It is very important."

Belgian-German match-up
Belgian champions Club Brugge KV have been paired with BV Borussia Dortmund in another tie where both opponents are already confirmed. Brugge's best result in the competition was a 1978 final defeat by Liverpool FC while German side Dortmund lifted the trophy in 1997. The full lineup for the third qualifying round will be known on Wednesday 6 August, with the conclusion of the second qualifying round.

Other past champions
As well as Benfica and Dortmund, three other past European champions, AFC Ajax, Olympique de Marseille and Celtic FC, were also involved in the draw for today's third qualifying round, which will be played on 12/13 and 26/27 August. All will hope to advance to the group stage, where eight more former winners lie in wait. Two of those, AC Milan and Juventus FC, contested last season's final at Old Trafford, with the men from Milan coming out on top in a penalty shoot-out after a goalless draw. The Arena Aufschalke in Gelsenkirchen has the honour of staging the 2003/04 final on 26 May.

UEFA Champions League third qualifying round draw
First-leg matches: 12/13 August 2003
Second-leg matches: 26/27 August 2003
PFC CSKA Moskva (RUS) or FK Vardar (MKD) v AC Sparta Praha (CZE)
MTK Hungária FC (HUN) or HJK Helsinki (FIN) v Celtic FC (SCO) or FBK Kaunas (LIT)
Rangers FC (SCO) v FC København (DEN) or Sliema Wanderers FC (MLT)
FK Austria Wien (AUT) v Olympique de Marseille (FRA)
Club Brugge KV (BEL) v BV Borussia Dortmund (GER)
FC Sheriff (MOL) or FC Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) v FC Lokomotiv Moskva (RUS)
S.S. Lazio (ITA) v SL Benfica (POR)
FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) v NK Maribor (SLO) or NK Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
Bohemian FC (IRE) or Rosenborg BK (NOR) v RC Deportivo La Coruña (ESP)
Grasshopper-Club (SUI) v AEK Athens FC (GRE)
MŠK Zilina (SVK) or Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC (ISR) v Chelsea FC (ENG)
RC Celta de Vigo (ESP) v FK Leotar (BHZ) or SK Slavia Praha (CZE)
FK Partizan (YUG) or Djurgårdens IF (SWE) v Newcastle United FC (ENG)
Galatasaray SK (TUR) v FC Pyunik (ARM) or PFC CSKA Sofia (BUL)
RSC Anderlecht (BEL) or AFC Rapid Bucuresti (ROM) v Wisla Kraków (POL) or Omonia AC (CYP)
KF Tirana (ALB) or Grazer AK (AUT) v AFC Ajax (NED)

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