By Nurudeen Obalola:
Nigerian players in the UEFA Champions League play-offs are up against tough hurdles as they bid to reach the lucrative group phase.
The tie of the round appears to be between Elderson Echiejile’s Monaco and Spanish side Valencia, who finished fourth in La Liga last season.
Monaco easily overcame Young Boys 7-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round, but 2000 and 2001 losing finalists Valencia are a different kind of opponent.
Another big match-up involving a Nigerian is the Lazio versus Leverkusen tie. Ogenyi Onazi’s Lazio finished third in Serie A last season,while Leverkusen were fourth in the Bundesliga.They both avoided the qualifying rounds.
Ahmed Musa, whose brace helped see off Sparta Prague in the third qualifying round, will lead the line for CSKA Moscow once again as they face Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon.
The other Nigerians involved, Efe Ambrose (Celtic) and Nosa Ogiebor (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), face Swedish side Malmo and Swiss side Basel respectively.
The highest profile team in the play-offs, Manchester United, are up against Club Brugge of Belgium.
The first legs of the ties are scheduled for 18 and 19 August.
Lazio v Leverkusen
Man Utd v Club Brugge
Sporting v CSKA Moskva
Rapid Wien v Shakhtar
Valencia v Monaco
Astana v APOEL
Skenderbeu v GNK Dinamo
Celtic v Malmö
Basel v Maccabi Tel Aviv
BATE v Partizan