Former European champions FK Crvena Zvezda face tricky Croatian opposition as the second qualifying round starts.
By Trevor Haylett
FK Crvena Zvezda will come up against Croatian opposition in the shape of hosts NK Inter Zaprešic for the first time in 15 years tonight as the UEFA Cup second qualifying round gets under way with 31 first-leg fixtures.
The break up of the former Yugoslavia gives the game an extra edge although Crvena Zvezda coach Walter Zenga claims he is not interested in any other aspect to the contest, saying the only Inter that makes an impression on him is his old team FC Internazionale Milano.
'Bigger and more important'
"I'm not interested about the name of the rival at this level of the competition," Zenga said. "Crvena Zvezda are much bigger, more important and have much more quality than Inter. Also, the history between Serbia and Croatia is not in my sports plans and I do not want to mix the two things."
Inter coach Srecko Bogdan is forced to grapple with the problems caused by the absence of key players, captain Damir Krznar, Kristijan Polovanec and Krunoslav Vidak who are all injured. But he is looking forward to the tie: "Crvena Zvezda are the most attractive opponent we could get for our debut in European competitions. They are a famous club, former European champions and they are favourites in this match."
Other notable ties are the meeting between Liechtenstein's FC Vaduz and Turkish giants Besiktas JK, while Germany’s 1. FSV Mainz 05 face Keflavík of Iceland and FC Zenit St. Petersburg travel to SV Pasching. There are also two Swiss-Polish ties: the games between Wisla Plock and Grasshopper-Club and Legia Warszawa and FC Zürich.
Thirty-one teams will progress from this stage to the first round proper, where 49 clubs - including the three UEFA Intertoto Cup winners and the 16 sides eliminated from the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round - lie in wait. Forty clubs will then advance into the group stage.
The winners, runners-up and third-placed teams from each group go into the last 32 where they are joined by the eight third-placed sides from the Champions League group stage. At this point, the traditional two-match format is used with the exception of the final, to be played at the Philips Stadion in Eindhoven on 10 May 2006.