Atletico to emerge from Real shadow, Anderlecht slug it out for pride
PARIS: Atletico Madrid seek to take a temporary, yet lucrative step, out of the huge shadow cast by neighbours Real on Tuesday by completing a qualifying round win over Greek side Panathinaikos to take their place in the Champions League group stage.
The prospect of missing out and having to skulk around the fringes of the continental game in the Europa League is unthinkable to Atletico, given their need to glean some bragging rights in Spain’s football-mad capital. With Real having spent some than $250 million pre-season on Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso there is a need for them to show they can make a decent fist of maintaining their own profile.
Barring a major mishap, Lyon are set for their 10th consecutive appearance in the Champions League group stages — though they have yet to get past the quarter-finals, while Anderlecht are destined for the inaugural Europa League as the Belgians slumped 5-1 in the first leg in France. Both sides tuned up for Tuesday’s return leg in Brussels with success on the domestic front.
Lyon manager Claude Puel may have to go into battle without striker Lisandro Lopez, who missed Saturday’s league game with a muscle problem. Teammate Ederson also sat out after picking up an ankle injury.
Last week’s humiliation at Lyon’s Stade Gerland has sparked intense criticism in the Belgian media, with Anderlecht’s goalkeeper Silvio Proto, defenders Marcin Wasilewski and Jelle Van Damme and Czech midfielder Jan Polak targeted. Coach Ariel Jacobs, who will be withough suspended Van Damme and probably striker Tom De Sutter, commented: “I want to make amends. For our pride first of all, and also for the club’s image.”
Elsewhere, Israeli side Maccabi Haifa welcome FC Salzburg with the former looking good for qualification after their 2-1 win in Austria. Swiss outfit FC Zurich likewise have one foot in the group stages after a 3-0 rout at Latvian side FK Ventspils while Debrecen from Hungary are in the driving seat to see off Levski Sofia after coming out of their first leg in Bulgaria as 2-1 winners.
The winners qualify for last-32 group stage of competition while the losers drop into Europa League group stage. On Wednesday, the pick of the action will be Arsenal’s return match against Celtic with the Gunners having already seen off the Scots 2-0 in Glasgow.