Intriguing ties set to light up new era

The UEFA Champions League enters uncharted territory this week when the new format of the third qualifying round gets under way with the likes of Celtic, Sporting Clube de Portugal and Shakhtar Donetsk joining the fray.

New format

The 17 winners from the second qualifying round — all of whom are national titleholders — will play in the Champions Path side of the draw, their numbers swelled by the addition of FC Zurich, Olympiakos and Slavia Prague.

Joining at the same stage but in the Non-Champions Path section are ten sides who were drawn against each other on 17 July. Both sets of clubs are aiming for a place in the similarly split play-off round which will determine the ten teams that complete the group-stage lineup.

Rematch

Four of the 15 games take place on Tuesday including a rematch between Sparta Prague and Panathinaikos who met in the third qualifying round of last year’s edition, the Greek side running out 3-1 aggregate winners. As in 2008, the first leg will be played in the Czech Republic and the hosts will be looking to make amends for last season’s 2-1 home loss.

On the same night Turkish side Sivasspor, who have played just two European ties previously, make their competition bow against Anderlecht, veterans of exactly 300 more games on the continent than their rivals. Meanwhile, 2006/07 group-stage participants Maccabi Haifa visit FK Aktobe in the Champions Path on Tuesday.

Intriguing ties

The bulk of the fixtures come the following evening with some intriguing ties on both sides of the draw. The final UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar welcome Romanian competition debutants Timisoara while Sporting meet Eredivisie runners-up FC Twente.

Another tight contest is in the offing when Celtic face Dinamo Moscow, which might bring back memories for the Scottish side of their dramatic penalty shoot-out win against another Russian capital side, Spartak Moscow, in the third qualifying round two season ago.

Scandinavian set-to

In the Champions Path, the meeting between Denmark’s FC Copenhagen and Norway’s Stabaek IF is one of the standout fixtures along with Olympiakos’ visit to Slovan Bratislava.

FC Salzburg prepare to take on Dinamo Zagreb and last season’s surprise group-stage qualifiers BATE Borisov make the trip north to Latvia for a first leg against FK Ventspils. Something will have to give when APOEL meet Partizan Belgrade after the two clubs combined to put 17 goals past their second qualifying round opposition for no reply.