UEFA Champions League Playoff Preview, Predictions: Tottenham, Zenit Highlight Tuesday Matches

The Stage

It's the play-off round of the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League.  Twenty teams are paired-off to engage in ten, two-legged ties to decide the last spots in this year's group stage.  Today, five of those matches kick-off their first legs, with return legs next Tuesday.  Tomorrow, five more matches, including Italy's Sampdoria visiting Germany's Werder Bremen.

All amtches start at 2:45 p.m. Eastern with the exception of the match in St. Petersburg, which starts at 12:30 p.m.

Today's biggest attractions:  England's Tottenham Hotspur and Russia's Zenit St. Petersburg, each of whom could end-up favored to get out of group stage.

The Players

Tottenham Hotspur has never qualified for Champions League, but their final step into Europe's premier club competition has been paved by a fortunate draw.

Spurs will take on Switzerland's Young Boys today, the first leg of their two-legged playoff for entrance into the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League group stage.  The Swiss club represents a fortunate draw.  The other possibilities were Sporting Club Braga (Portugal), Sampdoria (Italy), Auxerre (France), and Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine).  

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp isn't bothering with reverence for a sid ehe admits to knowing little about.  As he says in today's Guardian report, "let's be honest, we should beat them, shouldn't we?"  Yes, Harry, you should, though the soccer gods tend to frown on scoffing.

Redknapp seems more concerned with Astroturf.  The Stade de Suisse in Bern's carpetted with the fake stuff, and like any paranoid manager with a cartilage-free captain, Redknapp's overreacting.  It's absolutely true that Astroturf is horrible for both player and fan, but Redknapp's contention that one match on the turf would "kill" King's career seems hyperbole.

Like Tottenham, Young Boys have never been in Champions League, meaning this tie will produce a debutante.

Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) vs. Auxerre (France) - Few clubs within UEFA have spent more than Zenit since the arrival of former Roma boss Luciano Spalletti.  Having created seven points of room atop the Russian Liga, the former UEFA Cup winners can shift some of their focus to Champions League.  After failing to qualify for the competition last year, Zenit's brought-in the likes of Alexander Bukharov, Alexander Kerzhakov, Danko Lazovic, Sergei Semak and Bruno Alves.  With one of the deeper midfields on the continent, Zenit should be heavily favored to beat an Auxerre side whose captain, Benoit Pedretti, says is not built for Champions League.  

Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Ajax (Netherlands) - Are you ready for some voetbol?  Ajax barely advanced out of the last playoff round, eliminating Greece's PAOK on away goals.  The result did little to quell sentiment that the Dutch league has severely waned, and against a Dynamo-side that performed respectably (in a group of death) in last year's Champions League, not even the threat of Luis Suarez can make Ajax favorites.  For Kyiv, the match comes amidst rumors that attacker Artem Milevskiy could be on his way to Liverpool or Russia's Lokomotiv Moscow.  If he doesn't play today, we'll know that the Kyiv star and Ukrainian international is likely moving-on.

Rosenborg (Norway) vs. FC Copenhagen (Denmark) - Two Scandanavian countries meet in a derby of sorts, with transfer speculation also hanging-over this tie.  Rosenborg midfielder Anthony Annan, who starred for Ghana at the World Cup, has been trying to use this summer's performance as a springboard to a bigger lead.  For Copenhagen, a team in financial trouble, the match carries greater importance.  FCK is 1.5 billion kroner in debt, with a financier estimating a group stage birth being worth roughly 100 million kroner.

Sparta Praha (Czech Republic) vs. Zilina (Slovakia) - Another regional derby sees Sparta, who is focused on ending a five-year absence from the competition's group stage, without two key playmakers and their leading scorer.  All of Marek Matějovský, Libor Sionko and Bony Wilfried will be missing for Jozef Chovanec, the Slovak coach looking to keep his country's club out of group stage. That kind of cross-over is not uncommon between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Zilina has four Czechs in their sice; Sparta, three Slovaks.

The Picks

 

  • Young Boys 1, Tottenham 2
  • Zenit St. Petersburg 2, Auxerre 0
  • Dynamo Kyiv 3, Ajax 1
  • Rosenborg 0, FC Copenhagen 0
  • Sparta Praha 2, Zilina 0

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