28 July 2014 18:52
Red Bull Salzburg are keeping their feet grounded as they launch their bid to reach the UEFA Champions League group stages against Qarabag.
Having dominated the Austrian Bundesliga last year, winning the league by 18 points and scoring 110 goals, Salzburg began their domestic campaign with a 6-1 mauling of last year’s runners-up Rapid Vienna.
Though untouchable in their home competitions, a trip to Azerbaijan’s national champions could prove a tricky test for Adolf Hutter’s men in the third qualifying round of Europe’s premier club competition.
Qarabag, competing in their maiden Champions League campaign, have only lost twice at home in 2014 in league and cup competitions and produced an emphatic 5-0 win against Valletta in the previous round.
Salzburg have not reached the Champions League proper since their 2005 rebranding and subsequent investment, but looked well-placed with the likes of Jonathan Soriano and Alan providing an attacking threat.
Wednesday’s clash in Agdam is the first of four games standing between them and the groups and defender Martin Hinteregger spoke of their determination.
“Our coach has been there to watch the opponents,” Hinteregger told Salzburg’s official website. “We know that Qarabag probably won’t sit back but will try to play their game.
“That suits our playing style and allows us to better use our attacking pressing.
“The long journey and the time difference are not ideal for sure, but we need to deal with it professionally.”
Three former winners under the competition’s former guise of the European Cup also feature in the third round of qualifying and they all face tough challenges.
Celtic, winners in 1967, travel to Poland for their first leg against Legia Warsaw, while two-time winners Steaua Bucharest face Kazakh champions Aktobe.
Feyenoord’s return to Europe’s elite club competition sees them host Besiktas in a daunting first leg at De Kuip.
With so much at stake, the Eredivisie side will have more confidence given Fred Rutten has yet to lose a pre-season game since replacing Ronald Koeman.
Despite big reputations, both sides have failed to make an impact in the competition recently, with Besiktas failing to reach the group stages since 2009-10, and Feyenoord’s run stretching a further seven seasons back.
Zenit, runners-up in the Russian Premier League last season, travel to AEL Limassol, one of two Cypriot representatives with APOEL visiting HJK in Finland after they beat Rabotnicki in the second round.
Ligue 1 side Lille enter the competition with a match against Grasshoppers in Zurich, while Panathinaikos start their campaign against Standard Liege.
BATE Borisov’s reward for scraping through the second round on away goals against Skenderbeu is a clash with Debrecen, and Dnipro face Copenhagen in Kiev after the game was moved to the Ukrainian capital on safety grounds.
Meanwhile Ludogorets host Partizan, Dinamo Zagreb travel to Aalborg in Denmark and Swedish champions Malmo visit Sparta Prague.
Maribor, who qualified thanks to a 2-0 victory over Zrinjski Mostar, entertain Maccabi Tel Aviv in Slovenia, while Slovan Bratislava welcome Moldova’s Sheriff.