Bayern Munich and Arsenal will find out today which opponent they must beat to reach the lucrative group stage of the Champions League.
Bayern and Arsenal, Champions League finalists last year and in 2006 respectively, must win a home-and-away playoff this month to secure the minimum 20 million euro (US$28.6 million) payment from UEFA that’s guaranteed to German and English clubs playing in soccer’s most-watched club competition.
Udinese, Lyon and Villarreal also enter as teams from Europe’s top five leagues begin at the final preliminary round.
Benfica, Odense, Rubin Kazan, Twente and FC Zurich — runners-up in Europe’s stronger leagues last season who progressed in qualifying ties this week — are also in a 10-team draw for non-champions.
In a separate draw, league winners from 10 mid-ranked countries — including Copenhagen, Dinamo Zagreb and 1979 runner-up Malmo — will be paired for ties to decide five more places in the 32-team group stage.
Defending champion Barcelona, beaten finalist Manchester United, nine-time European champion Real Madrid and seven-time winner AC Milan head the list of 22 teams which have direct entry. The groups are drawn on Aug. 25 in Monaco.
With the playoff-round losers getting just 2.1 million euros and a place in the Europa League as compensation, the stakes are high for clubs that rely on Champions League revenue and exposure.
Bayern, a four-time European champion, find themselves at UEFA headquarters today after finishing third in the Bundesliga, while Arsenal’s late-season slump left it fourth in the Premier League.
Both are among the five seeds and could face Udinese, because the fourth-placed Serie A side has a low UEFA ranking after missing out on European competition for the past two seasons.
Udinese, however, has since sold their star Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona and midfielder Gokhan Inler, the Switzerland captain, to Napoli.
Lyon and Villarreal, both semi-finalists in recent seasons, and two-time winner Benfica are also seeded.
Odense impressed in eliminating Champions League regulars Panathinaikos after a 4-3 win in Greece on Tuesday, and aims to give Denmark two group-stage teams for the first time.
Danish champion Copenhagen advanced to the last-16 last season and is top-seeded among 10 teams in the champions draw, which also includes APOEL, BATE Borisov, Genk, Maccabi Haifa, Sturm Graz, Viktoria Plzen and Wisla Krakow.
First-leg matches are scheduled to be played on Aug. 16 or Aug. 17, and return matches on Aug. 23 or Aug. 24.