Terry Duffelen
Wed 22 July 2009

UEFA Champions League Qualifiers Round Up

The road to the Champions League group stages is long and even more treacherous than Alberto Contador on the mountain stages of the Tour de France.

Of course some clubs are not required to join that road until it becomes a lot wider with tarmac, cat's eyes and those flashing signs warning you against bottle necks at Junction 11. Right now however, we are still at that dusty track stage of the competition where the title winners of leagues ranked between 50 and 53 compete in a two legged round with the reward of a place in the coveted third qualifying round at stake. You'd get pretty long odds on a lot of these teams making it to the big show so let's enjoy them while we can.

Despite what you might think, there are some pretty big names in this round. Last year's heroic underdogs BATE Borisov entered the competition at this stage. They would have made a bob or two from last season's exploits and if they've invested wisely the Belorussians will be confident that they can make a swift return. BATE eased their way past FC Makedonija Skopje from Macedonia 4-0 on aggregate.

Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade may also have their eye on trips to Turin or Madrid later in the year. They are comfortably through after a stonking 12-0 victory over two legs. The second leg finished 8-0 (Cleo scored a hat-trick) and was their biggest ever win in European football. All of which sounds really impressive until you realise that their opponents were Welsh champions Rhyl. Still, you can only beat what's in front of you I suppose.

Winners of the Best Club Name of the Round competition (if there were such a thing) are the Molodovan champions FC Sheriff of Tiraspol. In fact, they are early favorites for the same award in the next round since Inter Turku of Finland failed to shoot the Sheriff, losing out 2-0.

Another recent groupie are Levski of Sofia who, on paper, shouldn't have broken a sweat against the Andorran champions Sant Julia. And indeed they didn't on grass either. 9-0 was the final score. Maryan Ognyanov bagged a brace in the second leg which ended 5-0.

The Slovakian champions Slovan Bratislava are through after beating the Bosnians, Zrinjski. It finished 4-1 overall but Bratislava were a goal down after the first leg and had to pull out some stops to get through. Goals from Juraj Helenar and Gaucho settled the nerves after in the first 20 minutes.

There were some close games. Poland's Wisla Krakow could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Levadia of Estonia in the first leg. The Tallinn club not only held on but manged a last minute winner from Vladislav Ivanov to render the away goal redundant and see the Estonians through.

Another nail-biter was in Kalmar, Sweden, where the Hungarians Debrecen squeaked through. They won the first leg 2-0 with goals by Jozsef Varga and Zoltan Kiss. Varga was on target in the second leg with a precious away goal. However Kalmar stormed back with three goals. It was tense but the Magyars hung on.

While the Swedes crashed out, their neighbours in Denmark are laughing up their sleeves after FC Kobenhavn progressed. Ndoye and Almeida were the goalscoring heroes over the two games for FCK as they demolished Mogren 12 (twelve) - 0.

Fans of rampant commercialism in football will be as delighted as the enemies of romance to hear that Red Bull Salzburg narrowly progressed to the next round at the expense of Bohemians.

The Irish club are strapped for cash and could really use a decent European run. It looked really good for them too after holding the Austrian giants to a 1-1 draw in Salzburg. It was all back to Dublin for the second leg and Bohs almost made it to a second round tie against Dinamo Zagreb. Tragically for them, Patrik Jezek scored for Salzburg with only three minutes on the clock. It finished 2-1 on aggregate. Gutted.

The third qualifying round takes place at the end of the month. This round features the runners-up from Scotland, Holland, Greece, Czech Republic and so on. SPAOTP will be sure to let you know what happens.

Full results are here. Third Qualifying round is here. The story of Red Bull/Austria-Salzburg is here.

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