London final a long way off for cup hopefuls
The London Olympics have barely begun, but qualifying for next May’s Champions League final at Wembley Stadium is already underway, and some major names enter the fray this midweek.
Former European champions Celtic and Feyenoord are in action in the third qualifying round, along with distinguished names such as Dynamo Kiev and Anderlecht.
There are effectively two separate qualifying stages for the Champions League these days, with domestic champions kept together and clubs who failed to win their national titles facing off against each other.
For the non-champions, the possibility of a tie against Malaga, Borussia M’gladbach, Udinese, Lille or Spartak Moscow awaits.
As Scottish title-holders, Celtic’s path should be smoother as they look to reach the group stages for the first time since 2008.
Neil Lennon’s side will come up against HJK Helsinki, of Finland, who hammered KR Reykjavik, of Iceland, 9-1 in the previous round.
Scottish football needs a lift after what has been a tumultuous summer overshadowed by the dramatic fall from grace of Celtic’s Old Firm rivals Rangers.
However, Lennon will be taking nothing for granted against HJK, who are already more than halfway through their domestic season.
“Having watched Helsinki last week I know it’s going to be a really hard game,” he told Scottish media after watching his side draw 1-1 in a friendly with Inter on Saturday.
“HJK have a bit of pace in their team, particularly in wide areas.
“They are fit players who all know their way around the pitch. They will be difficult to beat and hard to break down. The onus will be on us to score.
“We’re in good condition now and the football is starting to look better. I think we’re ready.”
With Rangers banished from European competition, Scotland’s other Champions League spot has been taken by Motherwell, who will start as rank outsiders against Panathinaikos.
Runners-up in the European Cup in 1971, Pana are not the force they once were, with the collapse of the Greek economy having a major impact on football too.
They are also barely into their pre-season, but they remain favourites to win the tie, and Motherwell will need a positive result at their Fir Park home tonight if they are to stand any chance of progressing.
“We won’t be naive, but there is no doubt we will have a go,” Motherwell manager Stuart McCall told reporters.
Just a month after hosting the Euro 2012 final, Ukraine’s capital hosts a battle between two of the continent’s most famous club sides as Dynamo Kiev face Feyenoord.
Feyenoord have been revived under the management of Ronald Koeman.
“It’s a tough draw. Dynamo Kyiv were not my preference,” said Koeman.
“They are a team with experience in Europe and a team that is always competing for a place in the Champions League.”
Third qualifying round (first legs)
|Playing today||1st leg||2nd leg||Agg.|
|Dynamo Kiev (UKR) vs Feyenoord (NED)|
|Motherwell (SCO) vs Panathinaikos (GRE)|
|Tomorrow||1st leg||2nd leg||Agg.|
|Maribor (SVN) vs Dudelange (LUX)|
|BATE Borisov (BLR) vs Debrecen (HUN)|
|Cluj (ROM) vs Slovan Liberec (CZE)|
|Anderlecht (BEL) vs Ekranas (LTU)|
|S. Wroclaw (POL) vs Helsingsborg (SWE)|
|Sheriff (MDA) vs Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)|
|Celtic (SCO) vs HJK Helsinki (FIN)|
|Molde (NOR) vs Basel (SUI)|
|Kiryat Shmona (ISR) vs Neftci (AZE)|
|AEL Limassol (CYP) vs Partizan (SRB)|
|Fenerbahce (TUR) vs Vaslui (ROM)|
|FC Copenhagen (DEN) vs Bruges (BEL)|
Second legs: August 7 and 8.