Amidst the lot of international friendlies & tournaments (Emirates Cup, Russian Railways Cup, and such), I almost forgot to mention the UEFA Champions League Prelim. Round draw last week. Indeed, on Friday August 1 the UEFA Headquarters in Nyon (Switzerland) hosted the draw for the European Cups Qualifying Round, and Serie A teams can be fairly satisfied with the picks, avoiding “tough nuts to crack” such as Atlético de Madrid, Galatasaray and Dynamo Kiev.
Here are the results: Fiorentina will take on Czech team Slavia Praha, whereas Juventus will square off against the winner in the Tampere (Finland) vs. Artmedia (Slovakia) match. Also a good draw for Napoli (involved in the UEFA Cup), who will face Albania’s Vllaznia.
|Juventus||Tampere / Artmedia|
(From Gazzetta and KwSport): At a glance, the appetizer of the Champions League should be easy to digest for Juventus, who will have to face the winner in the Tampere (Finland) and Artmedia (Slovakia) match in order to qualify for the group stage of the 2008-2009 Champions League. We’ll have to wait until the second leg between both teams (held on August 6), in order to know who will compete with Juve for a ticket to the group stage. In the first leg of the second qualifying round (played in Finland), Artmedia Bratislava won 3-1 with goals from Pospech, Obzera and Piroska (Nieme scored the consolation goal for the home team). A Slovakian defeat therefore, would come as a big surprise.
“Certainly not an ‘evil’ draw for us” was Claudio Ranieri‘s comment from Juve’s training ground in London (Juventus were scheduled to play Arsenal the following day). “Given their 3-1 away result I really think we’ll be facing the Slovakian team in the end, and with the other possible opponents we could have got, it was a pretty good draw I’d say. Our main concern was to face a team much much further than us in their level of pre-season preparation, and that’s been avoided” concluded Ranieri.
Some of you might not remember Artmedia, but the Slovakian team is no stranger to the top European competition. In fact they already faced off against a Serie A team before, when during the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League campaign (after their preliminary round wins over Celtic -with an astonishing 5-0 home win- and Partizan Belgrade -in penalties) they landed in the same group as Porto, Rangers, and… Inter Milan. While not clinching a playoff ticket, Artmedia managed however to grab 3rd spot in the group and qualify for the UEFA Cup, thanks to an away victory to Porto and 3 draws (against Porto and twice against Rangers). The team is managed by Wladimir Weiss, a big fan of teamwork and collective play, and will be counting on the technique & long-shot abilities of playmaker Jan Kozac.
As for Fiorentina, they have a slightly spicier dish in front of them having to take on Slavia Praha, an expert Czech team and one of the main regulars in the European tournament. The Czechs make of their youth component one of their strongest points, to which the experience of players such as Vladimir Smicer brings added quality and reference points. Up front, the dangerous goalscoring form of Tomas Necid (which peaked in the U-19 tournament last July) should keep the Viola defense on their guard. In last year’s UCL, Slavia Praha (holder of 15 national league titles, including 13 from the old times of Czechoslovakia) managed to come out 3rd (and thus qualify for the UEFA Cup) in a group made up of Arsenal and FC Sevilla.
“It’s a tough pick of the draw against a top-notch squad“, was Viola manager Cesare Prandelli‘s first comment. “We all know the level of football played in the Czech Republic“, he added. “I have also seen it in the European Cup.” It will be a difficult match and we’ll play to the best of our ability“. The first leg will take place on August 12 or 13 and the second leg two weeks later.
UEFA Cup – Napoli can also smile after ending up with Albania’s Vllaznia as the pick of the draw for the 2º qualifying round of the UEFA Cup. They will play the first leg in Albania on August 14 and the second match at Stadio San Paolo on August 28.
OTHER UCL MATCH-UPS
Atletico Madrid vs. Schalke 04 should provide some good entertainment, while Turkish champions Galatasaray will play the always tough Steaua Bucharest. Unless some apocalyptic event occurs, Spartak Moscow will be waiting for Dynamo Kiev (still needing to play the second leg against an already-defeated Drogheda) and finally, as Arsenal take on Dutch rivals Twente and El Niño‘s Liverpool play Standard Liège (Belgium), Barcelona have it relatively easy: they will play the winner in the Beitar (ISR)-Wisla Krakow (POL) match.
Full UCL Preliminary Round Draw
|Anorthosis (CYP) / Rapid Wien (AUT)||Olympiakos (GRE)|
|Vitória SC (POR)||Göteborg (SWE) / Basel (SUI)|
|Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)||Domâžale (SVN) / Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)|
|Schalke 04 (GER)||Atlético Madrid (SPA)|
|Aalborg (DEN) / Modrica (BIH)||Rangers (SCO) / Kaunas (LTU)|
|Barcelona (SPA)||Beitar (ISR) / Wisla Krakow (POL)|
|Levski Sofia (BUL)||Anderlecht (BEL) / B. Borisov (BLR)|
|Standard Liège (BEL)||Liverpool (ENG)|
|Inter Baki (AZE) / Partizan (SRB)||Fenerbahçe (TUR) / Budapest (HUN)|
|Twente (HOL)||Arsenal (ENG)|
|Spartak Moskow (RUS)||Drogheda Utd (IRE) / Dynamo Kiev (UKR)|
|Juventus (ITA)||Tampere (FIN) / Artmedia (SVK)|
|Brann (NOR)||Marseille (FRA)|
|Fiorentina (ITA)||Slavia Praha (CZE)|
|Galatasaray (TUR)||Steaua Bucarest (ROM)|
|Panathinaikos (GRE) / Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO)||Sheriff (MDA) / Sparta Praha (CZE)|