KI Klaksvik players celebrate after winning the penalty shootout against BK Hacken in the second qualifying round (Adam IHSE)
Rangers and Marseille launch their bids to qualify for the Champions League group stage this week as rank outsiders KI Klaksvik of the Faroe Islands attempt to prolong their fairytale adventure.
Former European champions PSV Eindhoven also enter the competition in the third qualifying round, with six slots still to be filled in what will be the final season with 32 clubs in the group phase.
The winners of the 10 ties advance to the play-off round, for which the pairings will be drawn on Monday. Belgian champions Antwerp and Swiss champions Young Boys join before the final hurdle.
Rangers endured a miserable return to the Champions League’s elite last year, finishing without a single point in their first group stage campaign since 2010.
Michael Beale’s side began the new Scottish season with a surprise 1-0 loss at Kilmarnock, underlining the size of the task ahead as they prepare to host Swiss side Servette on Wednesday.
“It’s bitterly disappointing for the players and staff but ultimately for the fans who have been excited in the summer, so there’s a bit of realism in the air with that result,” said Beale.
“There’s a lot of work to do moving forward but we’ll bounce back.”
Marseille also finished bottom of their Champions League section last term. An abject run at the end of the season cost them a shot at automatic qualification and saw coach Igor Tudor depart.
Marcelino is Marseille’s seventh full-time coach in eight years and the club have been busy in the transfer market, bringing in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Ismaila Sarr.
“It’s an ambitious project in terms of the recruitment and mindset,” said Kondogbia, who is reunited with Marcelino after playing under the Spaniard at Valencia.
“Going through the qualifying rounds didn’t put me off. The important thing is the intent and I’ve seen that in what’s been said and done.”
Kondogbia could be handed his Marseille debut away to Greek side Panathinaikos, the 1971 European Cup runners-up whose last group stage appearance came 13 years ago.
Klaksvik made history last week as the first Faroese club to secure a place in the group stage of a European competition.
They knocked out Swedish champions BK Hacken on penalties to assure themselves of at least a spot in the Conference League.
Klaksvik, based in a town which boasts just 5,000 inhabitants, face Norwegians Molde on Tuesday.
Turkish giants Galatasaray meet Olimpija Ljubljana of Slovenia, with FC Copenhagen up against Sparta Prague and AEK Athens playing Dinamo Zagreb.
PSV rub shoulders with Sturm Graz of Austria as Portugal’s Braga take on Serbian newcomers Backa Topola, with the losing sides dropping into the Europa League.
Starting next season, the Champions League will expand to 36 teams using the so-called “Swiss system” model for the group stage in which each side will play eight matches.
Third round qualifying ties, first legs:
Rakow (POL) v Aris Limassol (CYP)
FC Copenhagen (DEN) v Sparta Prague (CZE)
PSV Eindhoven (NED) v Sturm Graz (AUT)
AEK Athens (GRE) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
KI Klaksvik (FRO) v Molde (NOR)
Olimpija Ljubljana (SLO) v Galatasaray (TUR)
Braga (POR) v Backa Topola (SRB)
Panathinaikos (GRE) v Marseille (FRA)
Slovan Bratislava (SVK) v Maccabi Haifa (ISR)
Rangers (SCO) v Servette (SUI)
– Return legs to be played August 15