Sat, Aug 06, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Champions League playoff pits Udinese against the Gunners

AFP, NYON, Switzerland

Arsenal must overcome Serie A opposition in the shape of Udinese if Arsene Wenger’s team are to make it to the Champions League group stages for the 14th successive season.

Meanwhile, the draw for the Europa League playoffs threw up a Battle of Britain clash as Scottish club Hearts were paired with English Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur.

Arsenal were pitted against the Italian side in the draw for the Champions league playoffs held at UEFA headquarters in Nyon yesterday.

This will be a first ever meeting between Arsenal, the beaten finalists in 2006, and Udinese, who last made it into the group stage that same season.

Yesterday’s draw also featured two previous winners of Europe’s top club competition, with Bayern Munich facing Swiss side FC Zurich and former titleholders from Portugal Benfica up against Dutch league runners-up FC Twente.

Bayern have been crowned champions of Europe four times and their coach Jupp Heynckes said: “This is a game we can win and an interesting task. We have a great opportunity to move into the group stage.”

However, Heynckes was relieved to avoid being drawn against Russia’s Rubin Kazan, saying: “That would have been a long trip for us.”

The Russian outfit, who caused a stir when beating Barcelona 2-1 in the group stage two seasons ago, will not prove easy pickings for Lyon of France.

Rubin booked their playoff place with a 4-1 aggregate qualifying win over Dynamo Kiev.

Malmo, who knocked out Scottish giants Rangers in the third qualifying round this week, were rewarded with a match-up against Croatian league champions Dynamo Zagreb.

Spain’s Villarreal cross swords with Danish side Odense, who have never reached the Champions League group stage but who booked their playoff ticket with a thrilling 5-4 aggregate win over Panathinaikos of Greece.

Arsenal are forced to go through the playoffs after their end of term collapse which resulted in a fourth place finish in the Premier League last season.

The first leg at their Emirates stadium will be staged with Wenger serving a one-match touchline ban for using “inappropiate language” at referee Massimo Busacca in the wake of Arsenal’s second-round exit to Barcelona at the Nou Camp last season.

Arsenal’s two-legged encounter with Udinese falls between some demanding home assignments against Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester United.

In the Europa League, Hearts sealed their place in this stage of the competition after beating Hungarian club Paksi in new coach Paulo Sergio’s first match in charge on Thursday.

However, the meeting with last season’s Champions League quarter-finalists represents a huge test for the Edinburgh club.

It will be the first-ever competitive meeting of the sides.

Elsewhere, last year’s Europa League finalists Fulham were handed a tricky-looking draw against Ukrainian club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, who are coached by former Sevilla, Spurs and Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos.

Birmingham City will meet Nacional of Portugal, while Stoke City’s reward for beating Hajduk Split in their first European match for 37 years is a meeting with Swiss club FC Thun.

Scottish champions Rangers will meet another Champions League dropout in Maribor of Slovenia.

Celtic will meet FC Sion of Switzerland, while the surviving Irish representative Shamrock Rovers take on Partizan Belgrade.

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