The matchups for the Champions League third qualifying round are set, and as we have done with the previous couple of rounds, we are going to take a look at how the clubs have fared this far in this year’s tournament, as well as what they’ve done in the recent past.
The draw for the third qualifying round was held on 22 July, and the first legs kick off on 6 August, with the round concluding the following week. Also, by the time you see this post for the first time, the draw for the playoff round will have been conducted, and we are about six weeks away from the start of the group stage, when the “big boys” come out to play.
As with the second round, there remains two paths for the participants: The “Champions Path” features clubs that won their respective league last season, while the “League Path” features clubs that finished near the top (at least for the top 15 associations). Losers from the “Champions Path” will enter the Europa League playoff round, while the “League Path” losers will move to the Europa League group stage.
Two league champions are joining the tournament at this stage: Ajax (Netherlands) and PAOK (Greece). Also, there are six new “League Path” clubs entering as well: Krasnodar (Russia), Porto (Portugal), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Club Brugge (Belgium), İstanbul Başakşehir (Turkey), and LASK (Austria). They join the 12 winners from the second qualifying round in their respective “brackets.”
Here’s a look at all the matchups this round:
Romanian champion CFR Cluj defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv in the second qualifying round, winning their second consecutive round on a 3-2 aggregate score. They are hoping to win to advance to their first playoff round since the 2012-13 season, which was also the last time they reached the group stage. This will be their first match against a club from Scotland.
For the second round in a row, Scottish champion Celtic had little difficulty advancing, winning 7-0 against Nõmme Kalju, the most lopsided score of the second qualifying. Last season, Celtic reached the third qualifying round in Champions League, losing to AEK Athens, and last reached the group stage the season before, finishing third. They are 2-1-1 against Romanian clubs in European competition.
Cypriot champion APOEL had little difficulty with Sutjeska Nikšić in the second qualifying round, advancing 4-0 on aggregate, with Andrija Pavlović scoring a hat trick in Cyprus during leg two. They reached the group stage as recently as 2017-18, but the last time they played a club from Azerbaijan in UEFA competition, they lost to Neftchi Baku in the playoff round of the 2012-13 Europa League.
After a 1-1 draw in leg one of their second qualifying matchup against Dundalk, Qarabağ won leg two going away, scoring the winning goal 12 minutes into the match and adding two late second half goals to advance 4-1 on aggregate. Their Champions League trek ended in this round last year with a loss to BATE Borisov, and two seasons ago they were in the Champions League group stage, the first club from Azerbaijan to reach that pinnacle. This will be their first match against a club from Cyprus.
The two champions entering this round happened to be drawn against each other, so they have yet to play in the competition, and only Ajax will have started league play by leg one. This one is looking like an exciting early match in the tournament.
PAOK is coming off perhaps the single greatest season ever in Greek football, going undefeated (26-4-0) en route to their first league title since 1984-85. Last season, as Super League runners-up, they entered Champions League in the second qualifying round, eventually losing to Benfica during the play-off round and then finishing a distant 4th in the Europa League group stage. This will be the third time they have met Ajax in the Champions League, with the last showdown a third qualifying round loss during the 2016-17 season.
Ajax is coming off their best run in Champions League in nearly two decades, reaching the semifinals last season and losing to Tottenham Hotspur on away goals. They also found great success during their champion run in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands, holding off PSV Eindhoven by three points while averaging 3.5 goals per match, finishing with a +87 goal differential. They were also a finalist in the 2016-17 Europa League, losing to Manchester United.
Dinamo Zagreb is in Champions League for the second consecutive season – and thirteenth time in fourteen years – and will look to improve on last season’s playoff round appearance. They had perhaps the second most lopsided win in the second qualifying round, defeating Saburtalo Tbilisi 5-0 on aggregate. In last season’s playoff round, they lost to Young Boys (a club that could potentially loom yet again this season), and while it found some success in Europa League after (reaching the Round of 16), they reached the group stage the last two seasons it competed in Champions League.
Ferencváros also found little difficulty last round, defeating Maltese champion Valletta 4-2 on aggregate on the strength on a 3-1 win at home in leg one. This is the first time that Ferencváros has won two rounds in a UEFA competition since the 2002-03 UEFA Cup. These clubs also have a European history, though it was a very long time ago – the semifinals of the 1962-63 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Dinamo Zagreb won that one, and I wonder if they’ll bring out any of the old timers to reminisce this week in celebration.
Red Star Belgrade held on in the second qualifying round against HJK, advancing 3-2 on aggregate after winning leg one 2-0. This was after a bit of a struggle in the first qualifying round against Sūduva, so some of the shine might be off of Red Star after their run to the group stage last season. This will be their second time facing a club from Denmark, and the first one resulted in a win (against OB during the 2003-04 UEFA Cup), so maybe that repeats this time out.
Copenhagen didn’t struggle against Welsh champions The New Saints in the second qualifying round, advancing 3-0 on aggregate on the strength of a 2-0 road win in leg one. Last season, they advanced all the way to the group stage of Europa League, and reached the playoff round the last time they played in Champions League. This will be the first match up between these two clubs, and Copenhagen’s first match against a club from Serbia.
Maribor needed extra time to defeat AIK on away goals in the second qualifying round, but you don’t need to win by more than one to advance in this tournament. The last time Maribor played in Champions League (2017-18), the Slovenian champions reached the group stage, and their tour of Scandinavian countries continues this round (including a defeat of Valur of Iceland in the first qualifying round), with their first ever match against a club from Norway.
Rosenborg came back to defeat BATE Borisov in the second qualifying round, winning the second leg 2-0 after losing the first 2-1. They have not advanced past the third qualifying round since a trip to the playoff round during the 2010-11 Champions League, though they did play in Europa League’s group stage last season. This will also mark their first match against a club from Slovenia.
İstanbul Başakşehir finished second in the Turkish Süper Lig last season, and will be playing in the Champions League for only their second time. The last time, during the 2017-18 season, they lost to Sevilla in the playoff round after defeating Club Brugge in the third qualifying round, but they’ll be coming into this match cold, with only friendlies played to this point in their preseason. Last season, they lost to Burnley in the third qualifying round of Europa League.
After a scoreless draw in their second qualifying round opener, Olympiacos returned home and easily handled Viktoria Plzen, winning 4-0. In the past, the club has struggled against Turkish clubs in Europe, with a 2-5-6 record, and the last matchup was a loss to Beşiktaş in the Europa League Round of 16 in 2016-17 (after they had defeated Osmanlispor the prior round).
Krasnodar finished third in the Russian Premier League last season, and will be making their Champions League debut in this matchup. They have found moderate success in Europa League over the years, including reaching the Round of 16 last season. This will also be the first time that they’ve played a Portuguese club in a competition history that only goes back to 2014-15.
FC Porto has a much more lengthy history in UEFA competition, including to Champions League titles (1987 and 2004) and two more in Europa League (2003 and 2011). Last season, they finished second in the Primeira Liga, failing to catch Benfica to win back-to-back titles in league play. In last season’s Champions League, they began in the group stage as champions of Portugal, and defeated Lokomotiv Moscow during that round. They eventually reached the quarterfinals, losing to eventual champion Liverpool.
Club Brugge finished second in Belgium last season, and are starting in the third qualifying round for the second time in the past three seasons. The last time they did so, they lost to İstanbul Başakşehir in their Champions League debut, so they hope to do a little better this time around. Last season, they began Champions League competition during the group stage, finishing third in their group behind Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, and then losing in the Europa League Round of 32 to Red Bull Salzburg. The last time they faced a Ukrainian club in Europe, they lost to Dnipro in the quarterfinals of the 2014-15 Europa League.
After losing in the playoff round to Ajax last season, Dynamo Kyiv moved to the Europa League group stage, winning their group and advancing all the way to the Round of 16, where they lost (big) to Chelsea, the eventual Europa League champion. They haven’t played in the Champions League group stage since they started there as Ukrainian champions during the 2016-17 competition, which ended in a fourth place finish in the group. Club Brugge will be the fourth different Belgian club they have faced over their long European history.
Basel snuck through the second qualifying round, advancing on away goals over PSV Eindhoven. This was the second consecutive second place finish in the Swiss Super League, and any time that they’ve traveled beyond this round in Champions League prior to this, it was because they were beginning in a later round.
LASK is making their return to Champions League (for the second time ever after the 1965-66 season) after a second place finish in Austria last season. Last year was their first time in Europe since the turn of the century, and they reached this round, losing to Beşiktaş on away goals.
Until next time…
Last Update: 2 August 2019