BIG BOYS’ GAME

Liver­pool, Napoli handed tough Cham­pi­ons League draws

New Straits Times - - Sport -

PARIS

LIVER­POOL must come through a tough two­legged play­off tie against Hof­fen­heim if they are to re­turn to the group stage of the Cham­pi­ons League af­ter a three­year ab­sence, fol­low­ing yes­ter­day’s draw.

Jur­gen Klopp will take his Liver­pool team back to his na­tive Ger­many for the first leg on Aug 15 or 16 with the re­turn at An­field a week later.

Hof­fen­heim, whose Rhein Neckar Arena is in Sin­sheim in south-west Ger­many, are in the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time in their his­tory af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth in the Bun­desliga last sea­son.

Their coach Ju­lian Nagels­mann, who turned 30 last month, is one of the most highly-rated young train­ers in the game.

Liver­pool fin­ished fourth in the English Pre­mier League last sea­son. The five-time Eu­ro­pean cham­pi­ons were last in the Cham­pi­ons League in 2014-15, when they failed to make it out of their group.

Span­ish side Sevilla have been drawn against last sea­son’s Turk­ish league run­ners-up Istanbul Basak­se­hir, who boast the likes of Em­manuel Ade­bayor and Gael Clichy in their ranks and elim­i­nated Club Brugge in the third qual­i­fy­ing round.

Napoli, who came third in Serie A last sea­son, were handed a dif­fi­cult draw against Nice, third in France’s Ligue 1 and vic­tors against Ajax in the third qual­i­fy­ing round.

Scot­tish giants Celtic, who were in the sec­tion of the draw re­served for do­mes­tic cham­pi­ons, must once again beat As­tana of Kaza­khstan if they are to re­turn to the group phase.

Celtic won 3-2 on ag­gre­gate when the teams met in the third qual­i­fy­ing round last sea­son.

Mean­while, Ever­ton have been drawn against Croa­t­ian out­fit Ha­j­duk Split in their Europa League play­off tie.

The English Pre­mier League side were seeded and added to group two of the draw. As a re­sult they were guar­an­teed to avoid some of the giants swim­ming around in the wa­ters — the likes of AC Mi­lan and Ajax.

And they will be rel­a­tively happy with a trip to the Adri­atic, where they will be heavy favourites to progress into the Europa League proper with the first leg at Good­i­son Park (Aug 17) and the de­cider in Croa­tia (Aug 24).

Fol­low­ing a sum­mer of heavy spend­ing, AC Mi­lan will strut their stuff with a rel­a­tively short trip to face Mace­do­nian side Shk­endija. Ajax, mean­while, face a Scan­di­na­vian derby with Nor­we­gian side Rosen­borg.

The Tof­fees booked their place in the play­off stages af­ter pulling off a 2-0 ag­gre­gate vic­tory over Ru­zomberok.

Upon seal­ing a place in the fi­nal play-off round, Ron­ald Koe­man com­mit­ted to tak­ing the com­pe­ti­tion se­ri­ous this sea­son de­spite the knock-on ef­fects in may have for their Pre­mier League per­for­mance.

He said: “This com­pe­ti­tion has al­ways been im­por­tant for me. I like to be in Europe — it’s im­por­tant for our ex­pe­ri­ence.” Agen­cies

REUTERS PIC

Ever­ton’s Do­minic Calvert-Lewin (right) goes past Ru­zomberok’s Jan Maslo in their Europa League qual­i­fier in Slo­vakia on Thurs­day.

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