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August 8, 2009

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Arsenal, Celtic to face off in Europe

BRITISH clubs Celtic and Arsenal will meet each other for a place in the Champions League group stage after being drawn together in the final qualifying round yesterday.

Celtic, which edged Dinamo Moscow in the previous round, will host the first leg against the English Premier League outfit, which is entering the fray at the final qualifying stage.

"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.

Arsenal does not expect to bolster the squad ahead of Monday's deadline to sign players who would be eligible to face Celtic -- or until the end of August.

"I'm not aware that anything is that imminent," Miles said. "If we see anybody coming in it will be toward the end of the (transfer) window."

Atletico Madrid must face Panathinaikos while other ties include Olympique Lyon vs Anderlecht and Sporting Lisbon vs Fiorentina.

Rank outsider Sheriff Tiraspol, which stunned Slavia Prague in the previous round, was drawn against group stage regular Olympiakos in the meeting of the Moldovan and Greek champions.

New system

The group stage will also feature a club from either Austria or Israel after Salzburg and Maccabi Haifa, the champions of the respective countries, were drawn together. Latvia or Switzerland will also be represented after FK Ventspils was paired with FC Zurich and one of Bulgaria or Hungary will feature after Levski Sofia was drawn with Debreceni.

UEFA has introduced a new system this season in which teams which are champions of their respective nations are kept apart from non-champion teams.

The system is designed to give the smaller nations a better chance of being represented in the group stage as they do not have to face non-champion teams from countries such as England, Germany, Spain and Italy in the qualifying rounds. "These new arrangements will mean that we will have at least another five national association champions joining those 13 that have already directly qualified for the group stage," said UEFA General Secretary David Taylor during the draw in Nyon, Switzerland.

"The format may be not such a big change compared to past qualifying formats, but it does highlight the 'champions' aspect of the UEFA Champions League."

Sheriff Tiraspol, which beat Finland's International Turku in the second qualifying round, had been hoping for an easier draw.

"We were expecting something a little bit easier such as maybe the Bulgarian outfit," said Sheriff's representative Maxim Wilhelm. "But it's a good chance to show what we can do in the final round."

The first legs will be played on August 18/19 and the returns one week later. The 10 winners will advance to the 32-team group phase.


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