Tue, Aug 08, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Big names face difficult road to Champions League

AGENCIES , LONDON

Some unfamiliar names could reach this season's 32-team group stage of the Champions League.

Some of Europe's powers, including last season's runner-up Arsenal, six-time champion AC Milan and last year's champion Liverpool, face tough opposition in the final qualifying round for the Champions League.

Games are today and tomorrow, with the second legs on Aug. 22-23. The 16 survivors move on to the 32-team group stage.

Milan, docked points by an Italian sports tribunal, were only cleared to face Red Star Belgrade in tomorrow's third round by a reluctant UEFA after Italy's match-rigging scandal.

A lack of legal grounds, which European soccer's ruling body will now address, prevented their Emergency Panel from barring entry to the six-times European champions.

Still smarting from last year's final defeat by Liverpool after leading 3-0, Milan will be led up front by Filippo Inzaghi on the striker's 33rd birthday.

Arsenal, playing without superstar striker Thierry Henry and suspended goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, faces a difficult task against Dinamo Zagreb.

Liverpool is up against Maccabi Haifa. UEFA was to consider yesterday moving the second leg from Israel because of fighting between Israeli's military and Hezbollah and Palestinian militants.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said it was "totally unacceptable" to play in Israel.

Dinamo's second-team striker Goran Ljubojevic said the home crowd will help his team.

"It will be great when Arsenal comes to Zagreb," Ljubojevic said. "We will be fully motivated and a full stadium will help us."

This final qualifying stage is dominated by teams from central and eastern Europe. A few are well-known clubs -- like Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade. But several are obscure.

One newcomer is Rabotnicki Skopje of Macedonia, which faces French club Lille. Rabotnicki advanced with a 5-2 aggregate win over Hungary's Debrecen.

Six clubs from central and eastern Europe were drawn to face each other, meaning three are guaranteed of reaching the group stage.

Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk faces Poland's Legia Warsaw, CSKA Moscow plays Ruzomberok of Slovakia and Czech team Slovan Liberec goes against Spartak Moscow.

Normally dominated by teams from western Europe, this year's final 32 promises more diversity.

Two Turkish teams are hoping to get through with Fenerbahce playing Dynamo Kiev and Galatasaray playing Mlada Boleslav.

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