DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Alejandro Bedoya will face former Old Firm rivals Celtic with new team Helsingborg while a pair of games against BATE are the only thing between Bryan Gerzicich and Champions League group play.
Helsingborgs IF - Celtic FC
After his recent transfer from bankrupt Scottish team Rangers to Swedish champions Helsingborg, Alejandro Bedoya will suit up against the former giants' biggest rivals as Celtic FC head to Sweden on Tuesday.
Despite a fairly action-free stint at Rangers, their financial troubles allowed Bedoya to return to the familiar northern grounds of Sweden, although taking a step up by signing with champions Helsingborg.
By the the time he put pen to paper, the team had already navigated past their Welsh and Polish opposition in the second and third qualifying rounds, but will need to pull out something special if they hope to go any farther.
Bedoya hit the ground running with a goal for his new team in league play over the weekend, and they will be desperately hoping he will star against Celtic on Tuesday.
Helsingborg have had a fairly lackluster followup to last season's championship-winning campaign. Through 19 games, they are in fifth place, and are amongst the group of teams fighting it out for Europa League spots without any hope of catching Elfsborg in first place.
Headlining the two games between the teams is Helsingborg head coach Henrik Larsson, who spent nearly a decade with the Celtic, scoring 242 goals for the team in the process.
A huge contingent of Celtic fans will surely accompany the team to the birthplace of one of their all-time icons to pay tribute, but will expect their team to shed any nostalgic feelings once the opening whistle has blown.
Despite having the Scottish Premier League title all but handed to them for the next few seasons thanks to Rangers' relegation, Celtic have started rather slowly in their domestic season, with a narrow 1-0 win in their opener and a disappointing draw at Ross County on Saturday leaving them at a surely temporary fifth place.
Celtic are without midfielder Victor Wanyama who is out on red card suspension, although the health of midfielders Scott Brown and Paddy McCourt, striker Gary Hooper and winger James Forrest are all gametime decisions.
For Helsingborg, the major absence is Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason, who was a goalscoring force for the team during his loan spell, but opted to leave earlier in the week to play for Dutch team Heerenveen.
AEL Limassol FC - RSC Anderlecht
Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht can give themselves a huge boost in their quest to return to Europe's biggest table should they come away from their trip to Cypriots AEL Limassol with a win on Wednesday evening.
Anderlecht are overwhelming favorites to fly past the Cypriot minnows, having utterly demolished third-round qualifying opponents FK Ekranas by a 11-0 margin.
They have also woken up on the domestic front, winning their last three after a disappointing draw in the season opener. This brings them into the game on an overall five-game winning tear, and in a three-way tie atop the Belgian standings.
Limassol are still two weeks away from beginning the season in Cyprus, and had a slightly tougher time to reach the play-off. They squeaked out both games over Partizan in the previous round by a narrow 1-0 margin, and will need to put on the performance of their lives to avoid losing the round and dropping into the Europa League group stage.
Neither team has any players suspended or is reporting any key absences to their available squads.
FC BATE Borisov - Hapoel Kiryat Shmona
Bryan Gerzicich and Kiryat Shmona are just two games from bringing their dream run to the Champions League group stage, but they must first deal with a potentially tricky matchup with Belarusian powerhouse BATE Borisov.
The first leg has been moved away from BATE's usual home stadium of Gorodskoi Stadion to the Dinamo Stadion in Minsk, while the second leg in Israel will also be moved from the hosts' traditional fortress to nearby Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa.
Shmona had to rely on two late goals to see them through second-round opponents MSK Zilina on a 2-1 aggregate, but had a much easier time with Neftchi Baku in the third round, easily taking a 6-2 total win.
With the list of teams they could have drawn for the playoff including a number of tough mid-tier champions, they perhaps lucked out in drawing BATE, one of the weakest left in the field.
The start Israeli Premier League season is also just around the corner, and with few expecting them to repeat their feat of last season, Saturday's opening-day game against Beitar Jerusalem will provide no distraction for the task at hand.
BATE are trying to return to the group stage for a second straight season, although few would expect anything but the same fate that met them the last time around - a last-place finish with a -12 goal differential and not a single win to their name.
The are already more than halfway through their domestic season in Belarus, and are, as usual, at the top of the standings. Their European qualifying campaign so far has been a nerve-wracking one, particularly at home, with a total of three injury time goals to their name in Belarus.
In a stroke of luck, the game was assigned one of Europe's top officials in English referee Howard Webb, who has the distinct honor of having called both a Champions League and World Cup final in recent years, and will certainly be up to the task of keeping these relative European minnows in check.
Neither team has any players missing due to suspension and are also not reporting any injuries.