The League Route of the third qualifying round for the UEFA Champions League feature some of Europe’s more reputable clubs when compared to the Champions Route.
Although the Champions Route includes only league winners, the League Route mostly consists of clubs who, while not achieving a domestic title last season, play in some of UEFA’s higher ranked leagues.
Another added benefit for these 10 clubs is their bypassing of the second qualifying round, unlike most teams participating in the Champions Route of this stage. However, when the play-off round is drawn on August 4th, the benefit of being crowned champions becomes apparent: the sides who qualify via the League Route are placed into a pool containing Liverpool, Napoli, Sevilla, Sporting CP and Hoffenheim, while the 10 teams who qualify via the Champions Route will be paired off against each other in the play-off round (and, therefore, avoid the more difficult teams aforementioned).
Here is the full list of games in the League Route of the third qualifying round for the UEFA Champions League:
Consistent European participation pushed the runners-up of both Romania and Czech Republic directly into the third qualifying round; Steaua Bucuresti last made the group stage of the Champions League in 2013/14, but also made the group stage of the Europa League in two of the past three seasons to boost their coefficient.
Viktoria Plzen are familiar faces for viewers of European competition, having qualified for the group stage of the Champions League in 2011/12 and 2013/14. They also appeared in back-to-back Europa League Round of 16 stages in 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Nice managed their best Ligue 1 finish of the 21st century when they finished 3rd last season, earning a spot in the League Route of the third qualifying round for the Champions League. They’ve got it all to do against Dutch outfit Ajax, a historically household name in the competition who have won four Champions League trophies.
Ajax’s grip at the top of Dutch football, which includes 33 league titles, has begun to slip over the past few seasons, though. They lost out on the Eredivisie title to Feyernoord by just one point, and haven’t tasted domestic triumph since 2014. Their hopes of direct Champions League progression also went up in smoke when Manchester United defeated them 2-0 in the Europa League Final.
Ukrainian runners-up Dynamo Kyiv missed out on the chance to win three successive league titles last season, finishing well behind eventual winners Shakhtar Donetsk. They are European regulars with five straight Europa League appearances from 2011 to 2015 (reaching the Round of 32 twice and the Quarter-Finals twice) and reached the Champions League Round of 16 in 2015/16.
As for Swiss runners-up Young Boys, their most recent European success was a Europa League Round of 32 appearance in 2014/15, where they went down 7-2 on aggregate to Everton. A win over Dynamo Kyiv would equal their best run in the Champions League – play-off appearances against Tottenham in 2010/11 and Borussia Monchengladbach last season.
It’s been a long time coming for Greek Superleague side AEK Athens, whose relegation to the second division in 2013 removed them from European contention. That is until recently, when AEK finished ahead of rivals Panathinaikos and PAOK on top of the play-off group table to earn their first shot at Champions League football since a third-round qualifying loss to Villarreal in 2007/08.
Russian side CSKA Moscow will show little sympathy for AEK’s recent struggles, especially after failing to defend their league crown against local rivals Spartak Moscow. They are frequent participants in the Champions League, having not dropped to the Europa League since 2012/13, though they did not manage to win a single game in the group stage last season.
Club Brugge are another group stage side from last season, but the Belgians endured an even more torrid time than CSKA Moscow; they lost all six games played, conceding a whopping 14 goals and scoring just two. A world apart from Club Brugge of the 1970’s – a side which made the final of the European Cup (1978) and UEFA Cup (1976), though both ended in losses to Liverpool.
Turkish runners-up Istanbul Basaksehir are a completely unknown quantity in the Champions League; they’ve never even appeared in a Champions League qualifier, and their second-place finish in the Turkish Super League last season is the highest finish in the club’s history. Their inexperience on Europe’s biggest stage is explainable through their youth – they were founded just 27 years ago and didn’t reach the top-tier of Turkish football until 2007.
The play-off round draw will take place on August 4th from UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
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