Aug 13, 2008

The Wednesday Wrap: Some Upsets In Champions League Qualifiers

Liverpool played a scoreless draw at Standard Liege that may frighten their supporters a bit but ultimately shouldn't be enough to derail their bid for the group stage. After all, Champions League seasons have been Reds' saving grace for most of the decade. Expect this season to be no different.

Greek club Olympiakos, on the other hand, may not be so fortunate. After going all the way to the Champions League quarterfinals last season, Olympiakos is quite likely to miss this year's group stage after losing 3-0 to Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta in the first leg of their qualifier. The result is quite shocking given that Olympiakos last season won Greece's domestic double (finishing ninth in Soccer Source's year end ranking) and spent €12 million upgrading their roster this summer. And it's not like they lost to Man United. Who can even identify Anorthosis Famagusta as a team? It sounds more like some kind of bone deficiency or genetic disease. The Greek club still has a shot of advancing of course, but they'll have their work cut out for them in the return leg.

In what was hailed as the marquee match-up of this qualifying round, Schalke 04 somewhat surprisingly took first blood in their match-up with Atletico Madrid, winning 1-0. Somewhat surprisingly because Atletico were seen as one of the big winners in this summer's transfer sweepstakes. Soccer Source anticipates great things for the rojiblancos this season but we did caution against this type of thing given the divergent countries of origin of some of their new signings. Of course it's not done yet. Atletico could still win the return leg going away, in fact here's expecting they do.

Both Turkish representatives in the CL qualifiers rallied from 2-0 deficits in their first leg matches. Galatasaray did so at home, against Steaua Bucharest, while Fenerbahce did so at Partizan Belgrade. Obviously the situation is a bit more favorable for Fener, who host the return leg and need only a scoreless draw to advance, than it is for Galatasaray who have to win in hostile territory.

The other favorites all held serve; Juventus and Barca both beat far inferior opponents by 4-0 scores; Fiorentina and Arsenal were no less efficient (2-0 victories that should see them through) and Olympique Marseille won 1-0 on the road.

Finally, how about those Ukrainian teams? Dynamo Kiev beat Spartak Moscow 4-1 in Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk (a much-ridiculed #21 in Soccer Source's preseason Top 25) saw off Croatian champs Dynamo Zagreb 2-0. Expect to see both clubs in the group stage. And don't expect them to be pushovers either.

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