Greek side Panathinaikos face an uphill battle to reach the Champions League group stage after losing 3-1 at Sparta Prague in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie on Tuesday. However, Belgian club Anderlecht look assured of a spot in the playoffs for the lucrative group phase after crushing Sivasspor 5-0 in Brussels with Tom de Sutter scoring twice against the Turkish league runners-up. Sparta, Czech first division runners-up, were beaten in both legs by Panathinaikos in the third qualifying round last season but were the better side throughout on Tuesday as they built a healthy lead to take to the Greek capital next week. Jan Holenda and Kamil Vacek gave Sparta a two-goal advantage and new signing Djibril Cisse missed a penalty for the visitors before the break. Dimitris Salpingidis did pull a goal back for Panathinaikos with just over 20 minutes remaining but Lubos Kalouda struck four minutes from time to make Sparta favourites to progress. Israel's Maccabi Haifa are favourites to go through after securing a 0-0 draw at Kazakhstan champions FK Aktobe while it was also goalless between Azerbaijani champions FK Baki and their Bulgarian counterparts Levski Sofia. Eleven more third qualifying round ties take place on Wednesday with Celtic's clash against Dinamo Moscow in Glasgow the pick of the bunch.
28 July 2009
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