Ajax paired with Nice in Champions League qualifying round
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By Graham Dunbar, Associated Press
NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Four-time European champion Ajax will play away first at French side Nice in the Champions League third qualifying round.
UEFA drew 15 two-legged pairings Friday after expressing support for Ajax midfielder Abdelhak Nouri, who was diagnosed with severe brain damage after collapsing due to an irregular heartbeat playing for the Dutch club in a pre-season game last weekend.
"We are will with you," UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti said. "We wish you, your family and Ajax every strength."
Dynamo Kiev, which hosts the Champions League final next May, drew Swiss team Young Boys and is at home first at the Olympic Stadium.
Champions League debutant Viitorul Costanta, coached by Romania great Gheorghe Hagi who formed the club eight years ago, will play APOEL or Dudelange.
Also, it was: AEK Athens vs. CSKA Moscow, and Celtic or Linfield vs. Dundalk or Rosenborg.
First-leg matches are played on July 25-26, with return matches Aug. 1-2.
Teams must advance through two rounds to join 22 directly qualified teams in the group stage.
Viitorul could be the most intriguing story in the competition if it can join Hagi's former clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona in the elite phase.
The team from Hagi's hometown gives playing opportunities to graduates from the academy he created in his name.
Viitorul's surprise debut league title was achieved on a budget of less than 5.5 million euros ($6.3 million) with the youngest team of any European national champion — earning the name "Hagi's Kids."
"The average age was 21.7 years, and most of the players are coming from the academy," Viitorul general manager Cristian Bivolaru told The Associated Press at UEFA headquarters. "The players are not only respecting him, they love him. Of course, he is not an easy coach, he is sometimes very demanding."
Viitorul plays in a 4,500-capacity stadium at Ovidiu, near Constanta, and has UEFA permission to use it to host APOEL or Dudelange in the first leg.
However, a home game in the playoff round — and for the group stage — must be played at the national stadium in Bucharest, Bivolaru added.