Give up? It stands for "Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round."
For those who aren’t aware, the draw was held today for the 3rd Qualifying Round of the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League. Although it wasn’t seen as one of the biggest stories of the week, this draw will have implications for FC Bayern, as one of the match-ups determined today will (eventually) provide us with our opponent in the Champions League Play-off Round, which kicks off August 16.
A brief review: as the third-place finisher in last year’s Bundesliga, FC Bayern qualified only for the Champions League Play-off Round, not directly for the Group Stage. The Play-off round consists of 20 teams playing for 10 final spots in the Group Stage. Half of these 10 teams are in the “Champions Track” and the other half are from the “Best-Placed Track” (or the Non-Champions Track). Because Bayern will take part in the Best-Placed Track, we’ll focus only on that and leave the Champions Track out of the discussion.
So, there will be 10 teams in this Round/Track playing for 5 spots in the Group Stage, with each team matched up against another in a two-leg tie. Standard Champions League rules apply - a 90-minute game at each side’s home stadium, most total goals advances, with away goals determining who advances in case of a draw. Now, this next part is a little complicated, so please correct me if I get something wrong (as I’ve been known to do): when the draw for this Play-off Round is undertaken, some teams will be considered “seeded” and others “unseeded.” The seeded clubs, due to their ranking, get to avoid playing each other, and therefore can only be matched up against unseeded clubs.
Still with me? As of now, it appears there are 4 seeded clubs already in this Play-off Round, 1 unseeded club already in this round, and 10 teams that will play each other in this 3rd Qualifying Round to determine which 5 will make up the rest of the Play-off Round. Specifically, the clubs are as follows:
ALREADY IN PLAY-OFF ROUND: SEEDED
ALREADY IN PLAY-OFF ROUND: UNSEEDED
FIGHTING TO GET INTO PLAYOFF ROUND:
So, my understanding of the situation is that we could NOT end up matched up against Arsenal, Lyon, or Villareal, but we COULD end up playing Udinese or any of the teams that are going to be battling each other to get into this round. Again, details are sketchy, so if I’m wrong, please let me know. In other words, after this last qualifying round is over, there will be 6 teams left that are in the Play-off round and unseeded, and that could be our opponent - Udinese, plus the 5 winners of the 10 teams listed in the third group above.
And it’s those teams in that third group above that were matched up with today’s draw. Obviously, our hope would be that the better, tougher opponents get upset in the 3rd Qualifying Round, leading to an easier match-up for Bayern in the subsequent tie. This seems like a small thing to worry about, because we would have to be considered the favorite against any of the teams mentioned so far, and even more so when you consider that Arsenal, Villareal and Lyon won’t be a possible opponent. Still, if it’s down to a medium-tough opponent with a 12% chance of upsetting us, and a not-at-all-tough opponent with a 4% chance of upsetting us, better you believe I’d rather play the weaker side.
So, with that in mind, here are the match-ups that were determined by today’s draw. For each, I’ve provided a bit of ill-informed analysis as to which team I’d consider tougher, and therefore would be happier to see get knocked out.
- Standard Liege vs. FC Zurich
Standard Liege is a Belgian side that I’ve been vaguely familiar with for years. I have some conception that we might have played them in a CL Group Stage game sometime within the last 5 years. I’m not sure about that, but I am sure that they have made the Group Stage against someone recently. Their current roster contains two Moroccans, two Senegalese, 5 Brazilians, and 0 people whose names I recognize.
Zurich is one of the best 2 or 3 clubs in the Swiss Super League. I recall that Basel was not a ridiculously easy opponent last year, but I still think that the Belgian League is better, and feel like Standard Liege would have a slightly better chance of shocking Bayern with an upset.
Weaker Possible Opponent for Bayern (I.E., I’ll be rooting for them): Zurich
- Benfica vs. Trabzonspor
Both of these clubs have enough to worry you on a good day, but neither would be seen as a huge threat. Benfica has Uruguayan international Maxi Pereira, recent Belgian addition Axel Witsel, and a few other guys that I’ve heard of. Trabzonspor has Hamit Altintop’s brother Halil and a very cool team name that I can never manage to spell correctly.
Weaker Possible Opponent for Bayern: Trabzonspor
- Twente vs. Vaslui
Probably the most important of these 5 games: a team that could really threaten us if they get a bit of luck versus a team that I’ve literally never heard of before. Nothing against Vaslui, but they’ve been around for less than 10 years and don’t appear to have anyone who plays on an international side outside of Romania. Twente, meanwhile, is only a year removed from winning the Eredivisie and fought hard in last year’s CL Group Stage, fighting to draws vs. both Inter Milan and Tottenham and picking up 6 points in a pretty tough group. Of all the teams playing in this 3rd Qualifying Round, these guys are the ones I’d most like to see get dumped.
Also, they had a partial stadium collapse recently. I’d crack a joke about that, but apparently someone died.
Weaker Possible Opponent for Bayern: Vaslui
- Dynamo Kiev vs. Rubin Kazan
Rubin Kazan is a team that has made a name for itself by winning a few big games over the past couple years, including a shocker over Barcelona in a CL Group Stage match. Their line-up includes ex-Malaga and Racing Salamanders defender Cesar Navas and Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins, known for being one of the 200 guys Queens Park Rangers were rumored to get and then never did. Don’t get me started.
Dynamo Kiev is one of the better teams in the Ukrainian Premier League. I thought I’d look into this and figure them for the tougher possible opponent, but looking at their roster now I don’t see anyone that good. I guess the fact that they play in a respectable league and usually win it should be worth something.
Weaker Possible Opponent for Bayern: Dynamo Kiev, although it’s close
- Panathinaikos vs. Odense
Greek side Panathinaikos is coming off something of a down year, and losing Djibril Cisse (who left after enduring racist treatment from fans) certainly won’t help their cause. Nonetheless, I think they probably have more in the tank than Danish club Odense, who played in the Europa League last year and get beaten up pretty bad in a group that included Getafe and VfB Stuttgart. If we ended up playing either of these two, I think we’d have to feel pretty confident.
Weaker Possible Opponent for Bayern: Odense
So there you have it. For each of these match-ups, I’ll be pulling for the side that’s theoretically weaker. The only teams I really want to avoid in our Play-off Round match-up are Twente and Udinese. So if Vaslui could pull off a shocking upset, that would be sweet.
If I got anything wrong in these above summaries, please let me know in the comments, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a tweet at http://twitter.com/bayern_offside. In fact, that offer stands for pretty much anything I get wrong ever. Thanks for reading.