PARIS: Robin van Persie’s new team Fenerbahce have a tough date with Shakhtar Donetsk, while last season’s quarter-finalists Monaco must overcome Swiss outfit Young Boys Berne to reach the Champions League play-offs.
For Shakhtar, their pairing with Fenerbahce means a return to Istanbul’s Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, the scene of their finest hour — the 2009 UEFA Cup triumph over Werder Bremen.
After raiding Manchester United of Nani and van Persie — and possessing experienced European campaigners like Raul Meireles, Bruno Alves and Diego — Vitor Pereira’s men are potential dark horses.
A possible meeting with three-time winners Manchester United — who enter in the play-off round — provides a fascinating sub-plot should Fenerbahce make it, along with a swift return to Old Trafford for Nani and van Persie.
In other ties produced by Friday’s third qualifying round draw Dutch giants Ajax, four-time winners of Europe’s premier club competition, face Rapid Vienna, Panathinaikos are up against FC Bruges, and CSKA Moscow play Sparta Prague.
Scottish champions Celtic can look forward to a trip to either Azerbaijan or Montenegro if they come through the second qualifying round.
Ronny Deila’s team are 2-0 up after Wednesday’s first leg against Icelandic side Stjarnan.
Should the Hoops seal the tie in next week’s second leg they will face either Qarabag in Baku, venue for the recent European Games, or Rudar Pljevlja.
The first legs are scheduled for July 28-29 with the return legs on August 4-5.
The winners qualify for the Champions League play-offs, with losers dropping down to the Europa League play-offs.
There will be little love lost between the sides with so much at stake. Qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League will ensure a windfall of at least €12 million for the teams.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2015.
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