Reds ready for battle in Toulouse

LONDON: Five-time European champions Liverpool start their new Champions League campaign in Toulouse while Ajax Amsterdam and Arsenal face Czech opponents when the third qualifying round kicks off this week.

Ajax, four-time winners of Europe’s top club competition, are at home to Slavia Prague and Arsenal travel to face Sparta Prague in first leg matches tomorrow.

Three months after losing the 2007 final to AC Milan in Athens, Liverpool head to southwest France for a game between two sides who will be in buoyant mood.

Liverpool’s talismanic captain Steven Gerrard gave his side a winning start to the Premier League on Saturday against Aston Villa with a superb late strike.

Toulouse also had a late win over Ligue 1 champions Lyon, who were however down to 10 men.

The French team’s coach Elie Baup was anxious his side did not get carried away by their success, telling the club’s website: “There was commitment, determination, desire and a real team spirit.

“We created nine or 10 chances and finally scored at the very end. The danger, though, in situations like these is what happens in the next match.”

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez is still haunted by their defeat in Greece – having beaten the Italians on penalties after trailing 3-0 at half-time in a memorable 2005 final.

“I am not over that Milan game yet, especially because I know we were so close to winning,” he told the club’s website.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping for better luck on the injury front after watching his side grab a late 2-1 win over Fulham in a London derby on Sunday.

Wenger told reporters his new Croatia striker Eduardo da Silva had a “50-50 chance” of making his competitive debut for the 2006 finalists but that Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor was definitely out of tomorrow’s game.

Elsewhere, the dream of reaching next May’s final in Moscow is shared by the likes of Lazio, who host Dinamo Bucharest today, and Sevilla, winners of the last two UEFA Cups, who play AEK Athens tomorrow.

Valencia, finalists in 2000 and 2001, have an easier route on paper to the money-spinning group phase against Sweden’s Elfsborg today. – Reuters
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