The European season officially got underway Friday morning with the draws for the playoffs of the Champions League.
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Tottenham Hotspur, making its first top level European appearance since the 1961-62 season, was rewarded this morning in Nyon with perhaps the easiest opponent of all, getting a two-leg playoff against Switzerland’s Young Boys Bern.
Spurs, which finished a remarkable fourth in last year’s Premier League, will make their Champions League debut against a team that finished second in the weak Swiss Super League, and whose best European result came when they were ousted in the semifinals of the European Cup some 51 years ago. Young Boys upset Turkey’s Fenerbahce 3-2 on aggregate to set up their meeting with the Londoners.
Today’s draw in Nyon set up a number of derby clashes, with the most meaningful perhaps being Sevilla’s match with Iberian rivals SC Braga of Portugal. Braga ejected Celtic comfortably in qualifying, racking up a humbling 4-2 win over the two legs against the sliding Glaswegians. Sevilla took the bye as the fourth place finisher in La Liga.
The marquee pairings are easy to spot.
German powers Werder Bremen face a tough contest against Sampdoria, whose best showing was a finals defeat to Barcelona back in 1992. Bremen, which finished third in the Bundesliga last season, features breakout World Cup star Mesut Oezil and has been strengthened with the pick-up of emerging U-19 forward Felix Kroos in the summer transfer window.
While consistently strong in Germany, Werder has struggled to make its mark in Europe, with its biggest honour coming way back in 1991 with the raising of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup.
Ukraine’s Dynamo Kiev faces an intriguing pairing against long-time Dutch strongboys Ajax. Ajax, led by Urguayan World Cup sensation Luis Suarez, squeaked through the third qualifying round on Thrusday behind a goal from Suarez, downing Greek side PAOK Salonika on the away goals rule, 4-4.
Kiev finished second in the Ukraine Premier League last season, and will be looking to atone for its awful showing in last season’s Champions League, where it won only a single group stage game and finished dead last in its group.
Russians Zenit St. Petersburg will face emerging French power Auxerre in their tie in what should be another high-powered clash. Zenit made it to the playoffs with a 1-0 win over Unirea Urziceni on Wednesday thanks to a goal from Danny; Auxerre got a bye as third-place finishers in Ligue One last season.
Ten teams will progress from this round to join the 22 champions and select runners-up for the group stages of the Champions League. The draw for that stage takes place August 26th in Monaco, with group stage play kicking off on September 14-15.
Fox Soccer Channel is the home of the Champions League, and fans can see every game this season on a variety of platforms. Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer+ will broadcast games live and on delay; FoxSoccer.tv will stream games live on the internet; FoxSoccer.com will have breaking news, analysis and live match-tracking; and @fsctv will have live real-time news on Twitter all season long.
Elsewhere in Europe
Liverpool will try to claw its way back into the frame after a dismal season that saw it finish seventh and out of the running for the Champions League. Today the Reds were paired against Turkey’s Trabzonspor in the Europa League playoffs as they begin their bid for redemption under new manager Roy Hodgson.
Other pairings of note include Aston Villa’s tie against Rapid Vienna for the second year running. Last season, Rapid ejected Villa 2-2 on the away goals rule. Manchester City face off against Romanians FC Timisoara; Porto face Belgium’s Genk; Celtic must try and get into Europe against Dutch side FC Utrecht; Scotland’s Dundee United face a difficult test against Greeks AEK Athens; and Paris Saint-Germain meet Israel’s Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
The first legs of the Europa league playoffs kick off on August 19th.
THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLAYOFF DRAW
(Games to be played August 17-18 and August 24-25)
Salzburg (AUT) v Hapoel Tel Aviv (ISR)
Rosenborg (NOR) v FC Copenhagen (DEN)
Basel (SUI) v FC Sheriff (MDA)
Sparta Prague (CZE) v MSK Zilina (SVK)
Partizan Belgrade (SRB) v Anderlecht (BEL)
Young Boys (SUI) v Tottenham (ENG)
Braga (POR) v Sevilla (ESP)
Werder Bremen (GER) v Sampdoria (ITA)
Zenit St v Petersburg (RUS) v Auxerre (FRA)
Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) v Ajax (NED)
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League.