By David Anderson
MANCHESTER UNITED and Newcastle are odds-on to join Liverpool and Arsenal in the Champions League after both clubs received favourable draws in the third qualifying round.
United, who will stage this season’s Champions League Final at Old Trafford on May 28, will face the winners of the second-round tie between Hungarian minnows Zalaegerszegi TE and little-known Croatian side NK Zagreb.
Newcastle will face either Norwegian side Lillestrom SK or NK Zeljeznicar of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who overcame IA Akranes 4-0 on aggregate in the first round.
United and Newcastle, who were seeded in today’s draw, will know who their opponents will be on August 7 when the second leg of the second round qualifying ties will take place.
Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson was satisfied with the draw, although he admitted he knew little about Zeljeznicar.
‘‘The first team out of the hat were Sporting Lisbon and we didn’t fancy them much, but when it comes to a draw of this kind you have no choice and have to accept what you are given,’’ he said.
‘‘I know Lillestrom are a good team, but I don’t know much about Zeljeznicar. However, it doesn’t matter which of the teams we play.
‘‘We will play with confidence and passion in order to progress into the group stages of the Champions League.’’
Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd was happy they had avoided the likes of Sporting Lisbon, Auxerre and Fenerbahce who had been lurking among the unseeded teams.
‘‘I’m very happy with the outcome,’’ he said.‘‘It could have been far worse given the quality of some of the unseeded teams in the draw. But that said, it won’t be easy whoever we end up playing.
‘‘The most important thing is that it is terrific to be involved in this competition and we look forward to welcoming either Lillestrom or Zeljeznicar to St James’ Park at the end of next month.’’
Both teams will play away first on either August 13 or 14 with the respective home legs at Old Trafford and St James’ Park on either August 27 or 28.
The two clubs have happy memories of this qualifying round and four years ago United beat Polish side LKS Lodz 2-0 on aggregate before going on to lift the European Cup, while the year before Temuri Ketsbaia scored the decisive goal in the final minute of extra-time to earn Newcastle a 4-3 aggregate win over Croatia Zagreb.