The playoff round of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League kicks off on Tuesday evening with some fantastic ties, as the competition finally hits a truly exciting round with lots of big teams involved. The third round of qualifying had some decent ties, but big guns like Arsenal and Olympique Lyonnais - true threats to make the knockout stages - start their campaigns Tuesday against big opposition. We'll be covering all five games at SB Nation, four of them in this space. If you're looking for an Arsenal-Udinese preview, we did an extensive one separately.
All games take place at 2:45 pm ET, 7:45 pm BST and can be seen on FoxSoccer.tv in the USA. Teams enter through either the League Route or the Champions Route. The teams entering through the Champions Route won their league, while the League Route teams qualified through high finishes, but did not win their league.
FC Copenhagen vs. Viktoria Plzen
Last year's UEFA Champions League quarterfinalists FC Copenhagen got a bit lucky with their draw in the last round when they played Shamrock Rovers, who they defeated easily. Viktoria Plzen had a tougher draw against Rosenborg, but defeated them 4-2 on aggregate. Copenhagen are once again leading the Danish Superliga and their defense is one of the best participating in this stage of the competition. With 'Zanka' Mathias Jorgensen leading the back line at home, Copenhagen will be favored to get a shutout.
BATE Borisov Vs. SK Sturm Graz
As veterans of the group stages, BATE have been in this position before and prevailed, while Sturm Graz have never made the group stages of Champions League in this current format. Both teams struggled with average competition in the last round, but one of them has to progress to the group stages, where they will likely be annihilated and finish fourth in their group. As the home side have more experience and Strum Graz are off to an average start domestically this season, BATE will be the slight favorites.
Olympique Lyonnais vs. Rubin Kazan
Rubin have been a slightly up and down team so far in the Russian Premier League, but their performance against Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine in the last round of qualifying shows that they're a force to be reckoned with. The combination of their rigid, tough to penetrate shape and the individual skill of their players makes them a tough task for anyone. Lyon are struggling to start the season in Ligue 1, but it will be considered an absolute disaster if they fail to make it to the group stages. They should be able to get a good result at home, but nothing is guaranteed against a tough Rubin side.
FC Twente vs. Benfica
Though Twente lost Theo Janssen in the offseason and are rumored to be close to losing Bryan Ruiz, they still have an extremely strong side and will provide a stiff test to Benfica. The Portuguese giants have taken the money they received from the sales of David Luiz, Ramires, Fabio Coentrao and Angel di Maria and re-invested intelligently, building a deep squad of value signings with a lot of talent. Key new arrivals Axel Witsel, Enzo Perez, Ezequiel Garay, Nolito, Bruno Cesar, Emerson, Nuno Coelho, Nemanja Matic, Eduardo and Joan Capdevilla. Those are all extremely talented senior team players that Benfica signed this summer.
Though Benfica were slightly disappointing in a draw over the weekend, FC Twente's diminished side might struggle to hold off the sheer talent that Benfica now has among their ranks.