Arsenal to face Celtic for Champions League place

Arsenal was drawn on Friday to play Celtic for a place in the group stage of the Champions League.

updated: August 08, 2009 18:22 IST
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Nyon, Switzerland:

Arsenal was drawn on Friday to play Celtic for a place in the group stage of the Champions League.

The England-Scotland pairing was the headline among 10 matchups drawn in the playoff round - the final stage of qualifying to reach the lucrative 32-team group phase.

Also, Sporting Lisbon will play Fiorentina, Panathinaikos will face Atletico Madrid, first-time entrant Timisoara of Romania will meet Stuttgart and Lyon will play Anderlecht.

Five matchups feature teams that finished well-placed in Europe's strongest leagues last season, five more feature champions from second-tier leagues. The 10 teams advancing will be assured of a minimum euro7 million ($10 million) payout in bonus money and share of television rights sales from UEFA.

"It's very important, not only for the finances, it's for the standing of the club, it's for the supporters' perception that we are one of the leading clubs in Europe," Arsenal general secretary David Miles said.

Celtic will host the Gunners in Glasgow in the first leg on August 18, with the second leg at the Emirates Stadium on August 26. Both matches will likely be played in front of huge sellout crowds.

The Scottish side, runner-up in its league last season, reached the playoff round with an upset 2-0 win over Dynamo Moscow in Russia after losing the home leg 1-0.

"It's a tough draw for us but everyone at the club is looking forward to two games against one of the top sides in European football," Celtic manager Tony Mowbray said. "It's a glamor draw for both clubs and one that will certainly capture the imagination of supporters north and south of the border. We can all look forward to two fantastic European nights."

Celtic beat its most recent English opponent in the Champions League as Manchester United fell 1-0 in the group stage of the 2006-07 competition.

Arsenal does not expect to bolster its squad ahead of Monday's deadline to sign players who would be eligible to face Celtic, Miles said.

Atletico Madrid coach Abel Resino was delighted to be paired with Panathinaikos, and to play the first leg in Greece.

"Above all we didn't want to meet either Arsenal or Lyon and more over we're playing the second match at home, which is fantastic," Resino said.

Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel said his side would not underestimate unheralded Timisoara, which already knocked out Shakhtar Donetsk.

"Anyone who gets through against the defending UEFA Cup holder must have a very good quality team," Babbel said.

Lyon has been forced to qualify after finishing third in the French league last season following seven straight titles.

Changes in the qualifying format designed by UEFA president Michel Platini also meant Lyon must face a tougher opponent - Belgian runner-up Anderlecht - than it could have expected in past years.

Platini's moves ensured champions from smaller countries have a guaranteed route to the elite stage by being kept apart from highly placed teams in powerhouse countries such as England, Italy, Spain and France.

"It's more complicated this year," Lyon director Bernard Lacombe said. "It's true that the match will be very important for the club, first, on the sports side but also financially. The return will be very, very difficult. The stadium at Anderlecht has a good atmosphere."

The revised format has ensured that either Latvia or Switzerland will be represented in the group stage, as Ventspils was drawn against FC Zurich.

Bulgarian champion Levski Sofia will play Hungarian club Debreceni, and Salzburg meets Maccabi Haifa.

"We are really thankful to Michel Platini," Salzburg director Mark Lang said. "The chances for champions from smaller countries are much better.

"In the past we had to struggle against strong teams even if they were third or fourth in their league. The money is one aspect of it but on the other hand there is the feeling of being part of the European elite."

The first leg matches will be played on August 18 or 19, and the return matches are scheduled for August 25 or 26.

The draw for the 32-team group phase - which includes reigning champion Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Inter Milan - will be made August 27 in Monaco.