Newcastle handed qualifying test in Belgrade

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The Independent Football

The Newcastle manager, Sir Bobby Robson, was in defiant mood yesterday after seeing his side handed a tough Champions' League qualifier.

The Magpies will either face the Yugoslavian side Partizan Belgrade - the Magpies' conquerors in the 1998-99 Cup-Winners' Cup - or meet the Swedish champions, Djurgarden, in the third and final qualifying round.

Robson, who is preparing his side for tomorrow's FA Premier League Asia Cup final in Kuala Lumpur, admitted that the draw, which took place in Nyon, Switzerland, yesterday morning, had been a hard one. He said: "I think this is a tough draw. They are both good teams and I am particularly aware that Partizan is a very good and technically strong side.

"I had hoped for a softer draw, but as it turns out, it's a difficult draw - but it will also be difficult for whichever team progresses to play us, particularly when they come to Newcastle.

"Our ambitions are high and we hope to go through. We have already tasted Champions' League football and know what we are playing for."

Newcastle played Partizan - managed by the German legend Lothar Matthäus - in the first round of the Cup-Winners' Cup when goals from Alan Shearer and Nikos Dabizas at St James' Park gave them a 2-1 lead to take to Belgrade under Ruud Gullit in 1998. However, a Vuk Rasovic penalty - the defender had also scored from the spot in the first leg - put the Magpies out on the away goals rule.

Matthäus' side won their domestic league by 19 points last season, but went out of the Champions' League in the third qualifying round 6-1 on aggregate to Bayern Munich.

Djurgarden, who currently lead the Swedish league by three points in defence of their title, travel to Belgrade on 30 July and will then take on Partizan in Stockholm on 6 August.

The winners will meet Newcastle on home turf on either 12 or 13 August and visit Tyneside a fortnight later.

Chelsea, too, could face a familiar trip after being drawn against either the Slovakians MSK Zilina or Maccabi Tel Aviv. Chelsea lost 3-1 on aggregate to another Israeli side, Hapoel Tel Aviv, in the second round of the Uefa Cup two years ago.

The Scottish champions, Rangers, will meet either FC Copenhagen or the Maltese side Sliema Wanderers. Celtic could be given the opportunity to put HJK Helsinki out of Europe for the second time in two years. They will take on either the Finnish side or MTK Hungaria in the third qualifying round - assuming Martin O'Neill's men can progress past FBK Kaunas of Lithuania.

Henrik Larsson scored two goals at Parkhead when Celtic met HJK at Parkhead in 2001 and they just managed to scrape through to a Uefa Cup second-round meeting with Bordeaux after the Finnish side defeated Celtic in the second leg.

Celtic previously played MTK Budapest, as they were then known, in the European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final in the 1963-64 season when the they lost 4-3 on aggregate after being 3-0 up in the first leg.

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