Manchester United to face Bruges in Champions League playoffs

ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 07, 2015 08:34 PM
Man United to face Bruges in Champions League playoffs
Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney tries to control the ball against Paris Saint-Germain in the first half of an International Champions Cup soccer match on Wednesday, July 29, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer

NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Manchester United must beat Bruges in a playoff to advance to the Champions League group stage after a one-year absence.

Two-time finalist Valencia was paired with Monaco, a quarterfinalist last season, in the playoff round draw on Friday.

Lazio will face 2002 runner-up Bayer Leverkusen, and Sporting Lisbon was paired with CSKA Moscow.

Rapid Vienna, the lowest-ranked team among the non-champions in the draw, is at home first against Shakhtar Donetsk.

In a separate draw for national champions, it was: Celtic vs. Malmo, Basel vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv, and Champions League debutant Astana vs. APOEL.

Skenderbeu aims to be the first Albanian club in the groups, and is at home first against Dinamo Zagreb. BATE Borisov hosts Partizan.

First-leg matches are played on Aug. 18-19, and return matches on Aug. 25-26.

Ten winners advance to the 32-team group-stage draw on Aug. 27 in Monaco.

United returns to Europe's top club competition after a one-season gap, which was its first since 1995-96.

A fourth-place finish in the Premier League in coach Louis van Gaal's first season in England sent the club into the Champions League qualifying stages for the first time since 2005.

Bruges, which finished second in the Belgian league last season, earned a playoff by beating Panathinaikos 4-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round.

Coached by former Belgium goalkeeper Michel Preud'homme, Bruges has current and historic form in UEFA competitions. It reached the Europa League quarterfinals last season, and was a beaten finalist against Liverpool in the 1978 European Cup when only national champions entered.

Shakhtar got a favorable draw as it begins a second season of playing all of its matches away from home at Lviv. Donetsk in eastern Ukraine is unsafe during conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

"We are playing in this stadium for one year, and for our players and our fans it is not normal," Shakhtar CEO Sergei Palkin told the Associated Press. "For the morale and psychology of the team it is very hard."

A UEFA ruling prevented Shakhtar from being paired with CSKA Moscow, and the Russian club will travel first to Portugal to face Sporting.

The reward for advancing is a 12 million euros ($13.1 million) prize money bonus from UEFA for being in the group stage, plus 2 million euros for winning the playoff.

UEFA has increased Champions League prize money by 33 percent this season, and will share more than 1.2 billion euros among the 32 group-stage clubs.

Playoff losers this month are compensated with 3 million euros and a place in the Europa League groups, which guarantees a 2.4 million euros bonus.

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