Sheriff Tiraspol stand to make a little bit of history should they progress to the Champions League group stages after their play-off match today.
The Moldovans trail unglamorous Swiss outfit Basel 1-0 after their first leg encounter, but with vociferous home support guaranteed, have genuine cause to be optimistic that after 10 previous failures to reach the lucrative group stage they can become the first side from their country to do so.
The encounter promises to be a high octane one if the first one is anything to go by as six players were booked, five from Sheriff, who also had Aleksandr Erokhin sent off.
Meanwhile, Sampdoria have never appeared in the group stages and have not competed in European club soccer’s top competition since they lost to Barcelona in the 1992 European Cup final.
While they trail German opponents Werder Bremen 3-1 they can take heart that they have an away goal and their rivals were thrashed 4-1 in their opening Bundesliga match on Saturday by Hoffenheim.
Certainly Sampdoria goalkeeper Ginaluca Curci has not given up hope that aided by an inspiring performance from talented forward Antonio Cassano they can stun their German opponents.
“The away goal has given us heart and a lot of hope and our fans will be like having an extra man on the pitch,” the 25-year-old said.
“We matched Werder in the first leg but just didn’t take our chances so morale wise we are going into this match in good shape,” he said.
Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv will also be out to reach the group stage for the first time as they host Austrian outfit Salzburg holding a 3-2 lead and the 2002 UEFA Cup quarter-finalists will be hoping their Nigerian international goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is in the form he showed at the World Cup finals.
Salzburg by contrast are looking to expunge the sour memory of last year’s edition when they went out at this stage beaten by Israeli opposition in the shape of Maccabi Haifa.
However, Salzburg’s veteran coach Huub Stevens is none too confident of being able to turn the tables on their opponents.
“After losing 3-2 our chances have been reduced of course,” Stevens said.
“I reckon they stand at around 30 percent,” added the 56-year-old Dutchman, who guided Bundesliga side Schalke 04 to the 1997 UEFA Cup.
Portuguese debutants Sporting Braga have already put out Scottish giants Celtic and are on the brink of claiming an even bigger scalp in that of Spanish side Sevilla as they travel to Spain with a 1-0 lead.
It is a long time since two-time Cup Winners Cup winners Anderlecht had a good run in Europe, but they have a real chance of making the group stage as they start all square at home to Partizan Belgrade with the first leg ending 2-2.
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