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UEFA Champions League third qualifying round 30/07/2014

Day two of the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round sees a huge array of games which include some of last season’s surprise packages bit in this competition and in the Europa League.

The first game of the day sees Steaua Bucharest travel to face Aktobe with both sides reaching this stage after comfortable wins in the second round. Kazakh side Aktobe secured a 4-0 aggregate win over Dinamo Tblisi while their Romanian opponents Steaua claimed a 3-0 aggregate win over Stromsgodset. Steaua are veterans on the European stage and I see them winning so will go for a Steaua 3-1 win.

FC Qarabag face Red Bull Salzburg in what on paper could be a mismatch after Salzburg reached the last 16 of the Europa league last season. Qarabag reached this stage after easing to a 5-0 aggregate win over Valletta while Salzburg enter the competition at this stage after a fine season in the Austrian league and will be wary to go one better than last season when they exited at this very stage. This could be the start of a great campaign for the Austrians and I tip them for a 3-0 win.

The first of the evening matches sees AEL Limassol host Zenit St Petersburg with both sides bringing good European experience into the tie with the Russians having the most recent success after reaching the last 16 of this competition last season against Dortmund. Both sides begin their campaign at this stage after good finishes in their domestic leagues. I think Zenit to just about secure a win so 2-1 to Zenit.

One of the ties of the round sees Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk host FC Copenhagen with both beginning their campaign at this stage and as a result have not previous outings so far but do have a good amount of European experience from last season. Dnipro reached the Europa League last 32 after a strong group stage run while Copenhagen played in the group stage of this competition but failed to advance. This could be a close game and as a result I think a 2-2 draw would be a fair result.

HJK Helsinki host Apoel Nicosia with the Finnish side looking go one better than their best having reached this stage three times in the last four seasons before being knocked out of the competition but face a strong opponent in Apoel who reached this stage last season but ended their campaign in the Europa League group stage. HJK secured their place at this stage with a 2-1 aggregate win over Rabotnicki while the Cypriot side enter the competition at this stage. This is a tough one to call but will gamble and say 2-1 Apoel.

Grasshoppers Zurich host Lille in a tie that on paper favours the visitors who are looking to reach the group stage for the third time in as many attempts and have been in the news this week after the sale of Divock Origi to Liverpool but the young attacker remains in France for this season. Zurich will look to go one better after exiting at this stage last season before also exiting the Europa League in the play-off stage. Both sides enter the competition at this stage and will be keen to make a good start but will go for a 3-1 Lille.

Feyernoord host Besiktas in a tie between two very experienced sides in European competition and as a result both enter the competition at this stage.   Feyernoord are former winners from 1970 but recent seasons have seen them only go as far as this stage and the Europa League play-offs while Besiktas have reached the knockout stages of the Europa League in 2011 and 2013 but only reached the play-offs last season. This could be a real cracker of a game and as such will say a 1-1 draw.

Ludogorets Razgrad host Partizan Belgrade with the hosts starting only their third season in European competition. Ludogorets were a surprise package in last season’s Europa League after exiting this competition at the play-off stage as they cruised through the group stage before exiting in the last 16. Partizan have a much richer experience but have only gone as far as the Europa League group stage in recent season with an exit at this stage last season before gracing and losing in the Europa play-offs. Ludogorets eased through the previous round with a 5-1 aggregate win over Dudelange while Partizan secured a 6-1 aggregate win over HB Torshavn and in this tie, I find it hard to call a winner so will go for 2-2.

Standard Liege host Panathinaikos in a tie between two sides with rich European experience thought the Belgians have had more recent success. Liege reached last season’s Europa League group stage but failed to advance while the Greek side missed out on Europe last season but reached the play-off stage of this competition and the Europa group stage back in 2013. Both sides enter the competition at this stage and I see a tight game and will say 1-1.

Aalborg host Dinamo Zagreb in a match between two sides with minor success in Europe with the Croatians having the most recent success. Zagreb reached the play-off stage of this competition last season before ending their campaign in the Europa group stage while Aalborg only managed the second qualifying round of the Europa league but enter this season at this stage. Zagreb reached this stage after a 4-0 aggregate victory over Zalgiris and I think their success will continue so a 2-1 to Zagreb.

Maribor host Maccabi Tel Aviv Maribor reached the play-offs of this competition before ending their campaign in the Europa League last 32 while Maccabi reached this stage last season before also ending their campaign in the Europa League last 32.Maribor reached this stage with a 2-0 aggregate win over Zrinjski while Maccabi secured a 3-0 aggregate win over Santa Coloma. A close game I think but just tip the hosts so 2-1 Maribor.

The final game of the evening sees Legia Warsaw host Celtic in a tie surely favours the Scottish champions who have rich European experience in recent years. Legia secured their place in this stage after a 6-1 aggregate win over St Patrick’s while Celtic defeated Reykjavik 5-0 on aggregate. Legia reached the play-off stage in this competition last season before ending their campaign in the Europa League group stage while Celtic reached last season’s group stage but failed to advance in the so-called ‘Group of Death’ behind Barcelona, Milan and Ajax. I see Celtic coming out on top here so 3-1 Celtic.

Article by Simon Driscoll 

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