Part of the changes to qualification this year sees the champions of smaller domestic leagues gaining the chance to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
In the Champions Path, the feature match-up should be between FC Zurich and FK Ventspils. Latvian titleholders Ventspils edged past last season’s group stage participant FC BATE Borisov on away goals despite losing 2-1 away in the second leg of their Third Qualifying Round tie. Ventspils have a balanced attack but their main goal threat is Andrejs Butriks, who had a trial with Blackpool in England during the January 2008 transfer window. Butriks has remained in Latvia and been a consistent threat.
Swiss champions FC Zurich have a couple of players to keep an eye on. Johan Vonlanthen, despite being only 23, has already gained extensive experience in his career in stints with PSV Eindhoven, Brescia and Red Bull Salzburg. Up front, the pair of Swiss youngster Almen Abdi and French import Eric Hassli combined for 36 goals in 36 Swiss league games.
The glamour matchup in the Non-Champions Path sees Arsenal take on Celtic but the game that may produce a shock result is the Panathinaikos – Atlético Madrid tie. Panathinaikos scored a massive 3-0 win to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the second leg of their Third Qualifying Round tie with AC Sparta Praha. With experienced players like Gilberto and Giorgos Karagounis complemented by the pace and skill of Sebastián Leto and Djibril Cissé, Atletico could have a tough scrap on their hands.
The full playoff round match-ups (games to be played on August 18 and 26) are as follows:
Arsenal FC (England) v Celtic FC (Scotland)
Olympique Lyonnais (France) v RSC Anderlecht (Belgium)
Sporting Clube de Portugal (Portugal) v ACF Fiorentina (Italy)
Panathinaikos FC (Greece) v Club Atlético de Madrid (Spain)
VfB Stuttgart (Germany) v FC Timisoara (Romania)
Olympiacos CFP (Greece) v FC Sheriff (Moldova)
FC København (Denmark) v APOEL FC (Cyprus)
PFC Levski Sofia (Bulgaria) v Debreceni VSC (Hungary)
Maccabi Haifa FC (Israel) v FC Salzburg (Austria)
FC Zürich (Switzerland) v FK Ventspils (Latvia)