Arsenal to face Udinese in Champs League playoff

Arsenal will play Udinese in the Champions League playoff round,

and four-time winner Bayern Munich was drawn against FC Zurich on

Friday.

Lyon also faces a tough hurdle to reach the lucrative group

stage, being drawn against a match-sharp Rubin Kazan team which is

midway through the Russian league season.

”It’s not an easy draw,” Lyon coach Remi Garde said. ”Both

teams won’t be at the same level (of preparation). We’ll have

played only two league matches and a succession of

friendlies.”

Arsenal club secretary David Miles said the Gunners were happy

to avoid the long trip to Russia.

”It would have been difficult. But we won’t underestimate

(Udinese) at all. The draw gives us the home leg first and

hopefully we will take a lead over there,” Miles said.

Villarreal will travel to Denmark for the first leg against

Champions League newcomer Odense. Twente will host two-time winner

Benfica in the first leg.

In a separate 10-team draw for national champions, Copenhagen

was drawn against Czech newcomer Viktoria Plzen.

First-leg matches are played Aug. 16 or 17, and the returns on

Aug. 23 or 24.

Ten playoff winners will join 22 teams with direct entry to the

lucrative group stage, which is drawn Aug. 25 in Monaco.

Arsenal, the 2006 Champions League runner-up, and Udinese have

never met in a competitive match.

The English side has a slight edge with the Premier League

scheduled to begin next weekend, whereas Udinese’s Serie A campaign

starts Aug. 28.

”We will make our best effort to prepare our team in the best

way,” Udinese general manager Franco Collavini said. ”We respect

Arsenal. It’s one of the most important clubs in Europe.”

Udinese, which was not seeded in the draw, qualified for the

Champions League by finishing fourth in Serie A. The club then sold

star winger Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona and key midfielder Gokhan

Inler to Napoli.

”We are working to complete our squad by August 31. We’re not

running to complete our squad for the (Champions League)

playoffs,” Collavini said.

Bayern Munich received a favorable pairing with Zurich, which

lost its first three matches in the Swiss league this season before

eliminating Belgium’s Standard Liege in the third qualifying

round.

”We have good chances of reaching the group stage,” Bayern

coach Jupp Heynckes said.

Still, he cautioned that ”Swiss football has great value” and

noted that Zurich finished only just behind FC Basel last season,

saying ”that speaks for the quality of the club.”

”We will watch the team closely at the weekend,” Heynckes

said.

Twente will find out next week if it can host Benfica in its

Grolsch Veste stadium where two men died in a July 7 construction

accident as a new roof collapsed.

”We are involved with the families of the two young boys who

tragically died,” Twente technical manager Cees Lok said. ”It was

a big traumatic event but slowly the focus went back to

football.”

Twente played 90 kilometers (56 miles) away in Arnhem when it

won 2-0 in the home leg of a third qualifying round tie against

Romania’s Vaslui.

”We’re hoping to play in the home stadium against Benfica,”

Lok said. ”Every team we play against, we are the underdogs. But I

think we are a tough opponent.”

Lyon coach Garde, who’s stepped up to his first coaching

position, praised Kazan’s recent Champions League predigree.

”They’re no longer an unknown quantity, they beat Barcelona

away. We will respect them but we also have enough to cause them

problems,” Garde said.

In other pairings of national champions, Wisla Krakow plays

APOEL, Maccabi Haifa faces Genk, Dinamo Zagreb plays 1979 runner-up

Malmo and BATE Borisov faces Sturm Graz.

Before the draw, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino warned

clubs of its zero tolerance approach to match-fixing.

About a dozen of UEFA’s 53 member nations are investigating

corruption scandals, including Turkey where champion Fenerbahce is

accused of fixing matches to win the title last season and gain

direct entry to the Champions League group stage.

”UEFA is workig very hard behind the scenes to ride the game of

these threats,” Infantino said. ”We will not hesitate to

prosecute any individual, any official or any club.”