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Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Balotelli's Nice to face Ajax in Champions League qualifiers

Reuters , Friday 14 Jul 2017
Gent's Thomas Matton and Nice's Mario Balotelli (R) vie for the ball during a friendly football match between Belgian first league soccer team KAA Gent and French Ligue 1 team OGC Nice on July 13, 2017 AFP

French side Nice, spearheaded by maverick striker Mario Balotelli, were drawn on Friday against four-times European champions Ajax Amsterdam in the Champions League third qualifying round.

Nice finished third in Ligue 1 last season while Ajax were second in the Dutch league and also reached the Europa League final where they lost to Manchester United.

Balotelli joined Nice on a free transfer from Liverpool before the start of the last season and revived his career as he scored 15 league goals. He extended his contract with Nice for another year last month.

Viitorul Constanta, the Romanian club founded, owned and coached by ex-international Gheorghe Hagi, were drawn against either Cypriot champions Apoel FC or Luxemburg's FC Dudelange, one day after their first-ever league title was confirmed by a tribunal.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled on Thursday that Viitorul were the legitimate champions after they finished ahead of FCSB, formerly Steaua Bucharest, on their head-to-head record.

FCSB, who had challenged the rules of the championship and said they were rightful winners, were also in the draw as league runners-up and will meet Czech side Viktoria Plzen.

Olympiakos, Greek champions in 19 of the last 21 seasons, will meet either Partizan Belgrade of Serbia or Buducnost Podorica of Montenegro.

Swedish champions Malmo and Danish counterparts FC Copenhagen, whose cities are linked by the Oresund bridge, will also meet if they win their second qualifying round ties.

Malmo drew 1-1 at home with Vardar Skopje on Wednesday while Copenhagen won 3-1 away to Zilina.

The ties will be played over two legs and the respective winners face a further round of two-leg matches before they can reach the lucrative group stage where the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Chelsea enter the fray.

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