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UCL heads to group stage

Mon 14 Sep by Mark Gleeson

Preview

The UEFA Champions League is now just two rounds from finalising the line-up of group participants for this season.It has gone quickly as the first four knockout rounds have all been played over a single tie with the first team out the hat enjoying home advantage.UEFA cut out the second leg to make up for time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.It means former champions Benfica of Portugal face a tough trip to Greece this weekend and Red Star Belgrade, another ex-European Cup winner, go away to Cyprus for a tie that is also fraught with danger.There are eight ties to be completed in the third round tonight and tomorrow, and the winners then advance to the final play-off round where four more teams await. Those ties, however, will be played over two legs, which is only fair given how much money is at stake for qualifying for the group stage.The top 26 teams in the competition are already guaranteed automatic entry into the group stage, including four from England, Germany, Italy and Spain. France have three and Russia two representatives.The group phase will be preceded by a draw on 1 October. Play begins on 20 October with six rounds squashed into the schedule and due to be completed by 9 December.