Sunday, August 5, 2007

Champions League draw tricky for Liverpool

Liverpool and Arsenal were both handed tricky Champions League qualifying ties yesterday which threaten financial disaster if they miss out on the lucrative group stages.
Rafael Benitez and Arsene Wenger would miss out on the opportunity to make tens of millions of pounds if their teams are knocked out during the third qualifying round stage - the gateway to the lucrative groups - later this month.

Liverpool face Toulouse, who were third in the French league, and Arsenal take on Sparta Prague, champions of the Czech Republic and winners of their league five times in the last eight seasons. The four teams were among the 18 entering at this stage. Neither Liverpool or Arsenal have failed to make the group stage before.
Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas put the two-legged ties into sharp context. "Not getting into the Champions League [group stage] would be a disaster for Arsenal, definitely. We have to be there," he said. "It's the most important game of the season right now. If we don't get in, the season won't be the same from the start. We want to be in the Champions League because this is Arsenal."
Benitez was not showing any dissatisfaction yesterday, however, when he said: "I'm happy with the draw for two reasons. Firstly, the travelling won't be a problem, and secondly, the second leg will be at Anfield in front of our supporters.
"After travelling to Hong Kong, Switzerland and Rotterdam, the last thing we wanted was a long trip.
"Toulouse are a good side with some good players. The French league is of a high standard and so this will not be an easy game."
According to figures issued by Uefa last month, AC Milan earned about £30 million from winning the competition last season, and that does not take into account ticket receipts. Chelsea took about £25 million, with Liverpool, beaten finalists, not far behind. Almost half of Arsenal's income the season before last, when they reached the final, came from the Champions League.
Liverpool, arguably, have even more to lose than Arsenal. They have spent £36.5 million on players this season and could invest again when they know they are in the group stages.
Arsenal can gain some comfort from history in their previous meetings with Sparta - they first became aware of Tomas Rosicky when they met in the group stage seven years ago.
Much of the burden of scoring for Arsenal this season will rest on the shoulders of Eduardo da Silva, who hit the winner against Lazio on Thursday, his first goal for the club. He played against Arsenal at the same stage of the competition last season, scoring in a 5-1 aggregate defeat. "It is important Eduardo has played in the Champions League and has experience of the competition," Fabregas said. "It should help us all."
Scottish champions Celtic have a tricky match against Spartak Moscow, who play on an artificial pitch.
Rangers, who hold a 2-0 first-leg lead over FK Zeta in their second qualifying round tie, will play Crvena Zvezda or Levadia Tallinn if they progress. Crvena, also known as Red Star Belgrade, hold a 1-0 lead over Estonian side Levadia Tallinn after the first leg in Serbia.

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