Next week, on August 9th and 10th, we will be witnessing many battles across Europe, to decide which teams will be joining this season's prestigious Champions League. The fixtures will be the following (with my predictions):
- Manchester United-Debrecen: Manchester United should prevail against the Hungarians
- Wisla Cracow-Panathinaikos: The Greek side certainly has the experience and players to win, but Wisla should not be underestimated.
- Vålerenga-Club Brugge: I have little knowledge of Våleranga, and I expect the seasoned Belgians to continue to the next round.
- Everton-Villarreal: This is one of the most interesting matches, with two ambitious and well-playing teams. It will be a pity to see Everton out, but I expect the well-playing Spaniards to win.
- Glasgow Rangers-Anorthosis: It is already somewhat a sensation to see the Cypriot side in this stage after they defeated Tranbzonspor. They will surely fight for their chance, but Rangers should prevail and qualify to the Champions League.
- Malmø-Thun: Two teams from minor leagues, makes it hard to predict. While the Swedes had trouble winning over Haifa Tel Aviv, the Swiss defeated the giants of Dinamo Kijev. Therefore, I would put my money on Thun.
- Betis-Monaco: Betis has a very strong and entertaining team. So has Monaco, so this will be a great clash. Monaco has experienced many changes in the team since their excellent performance in the 2003-04 season. I think Betis will fight well and get the spot.
- Brøndby-Ajax Amsterdam: I will put my bet with the heart; Brøndby will win, although it will be a hard match against the legendary Dutch side.
- Rosenborg-Steua Bucharest: Neither side is at its former strength, but they both have good traditions in European tournaments. At the moment, Rosenborg is looking the weaker though, and the Romanians will win.
- Sporting Lisbon-Udinese: A Southern European clash. Sporting Lisbon disappointingly lost last season's UEFA Cup final, and should be very motivated to go to the Champions League.
- Anderlecht-Slavia Prague: An interesting encounter. Anderlecht is my favourite.
- Basel-Werder Bremen: Basel has done well in the Champions League before, and will not make it easy for the Germans. However, I believe the Germans will pull out a victory, and they will surely be as hard to defeat for any team as last season.
- Partizan Belgrade-Artmedia: Artmedia is in this round after trashing Celtic 5-0. However, they showed weakness losing the second leg 4-0, and I believe the strong Yugoslav side must have studied them. I believe we will see Partizan in the Champions League.
- Rapid Vienna-Lokomotiv Moscow: We have been seeing good results from Russian teams the last couple of seasons, and I believe Lokomotiv will be making life hard for other teams in the Champions League.
- Shakhtar Donetsk-Inter: Sometimes Italian sides underestimate their opponent. Inter could surely do it, but I expect they will win a typical narrow victory.
- Liverpool-CSKA Sofia: Everybody will want to beat the defending champions. So will the Bulgarians, and the game will be a difficult one for Liverpool. However, with the tactical genius of Benitez, and the cunning of Stephen Gerrard, Liverpool will prevail to defend their title.
The great games are here! No more waiting! Let us have some beers and watch some football!