The long road to the Champions League group stage begins on Tuesday, as Poland's Lech Poznan and Azeri club Qarabag FK meet at Stadion Miejski Poznan for the opening leg of their first qualifying round tie.
Both teams will be seeking an advantage ahead of next week's return, after which the winners will advance to a second-stage encounter with FC Zurich; the losers being consigned to the Europa Conference League.
Having participated in 18 editions of UEFA club competitions - including seven seasons in the Champions League, 13 in the UEFA Cup or Europa League, and two in the Cup Winners' Cup - Qarabag's European pedigree has been established over the past three decades.
As the first Azerbaijani team to advance to the group stage of the Champions League, when they made to it to the promised land in the 2017-18 season, their quest to replicate that achievement starts in early July, with a trip to Poznan.
The club managed by long-serving coach Gurban Gurbanov spent last season taking part in the inaugural Europa Conference League, and they impressed in Group H - picking up three victories and suffering just a single defeat.
As a result, Qarabag finished second, behind Basel, but were then thumped 6-1 on aggregate by Marseille in the subsequent playoffs for the tournament's last 16.
After finishing runners-up in the Azerbaijan Premier League at the end of the 2020-21 campaign - the club's first failure to claim the title in eight years - the Horsemen returned to top spot on the podium last term, and qualified for the Champions League preliminaries as national champions.
Since completing the double by winning the cup at the end of May, a brief break has been followed by friendlies against Botosani, Holstein Kiel and Universitatea Craiova, from which Gurbanov's side have emerged unbeaten - setting them up nicely for the task ahead.
By contrast, Lech Poznan have suffered two losses from their three warm-up games since reconvening on June 24, with a 2-1 win over Jagiellonia Bialystok at least raising spirits somewhat last Tuesday.
The Polish champions kick off the 2022-23 campaign after a period of change, as former coach Maciej Skorza made way for ex-Anderlecht boss John van den Brom in the dugout, while teenage talent Jakub Kaminski has departed for the Bundesliga.
Having celebrated the club's 100th anniversary by lifting the Ekstraklasa trophy for the eighth time - their first title for seven years - Lech are now aiming to make an impact on Europe.
Since the turn of the century, the Railwaymen have only four Europa League or UEFA Cup group appearances to show for their efforts - with a solitary knockout stage qualification back in 2011 ending in the last 32.
Their new coach will be eager to get the fans onside by taking a first step towards the Champions League's group phase on Tuesday, when his side seek to make home advantage pay.
While winger Jakub Kaminski has already left to join Wolfsburg, new Lech coach John van den Brom will also be without Czech midfielder Jan Sykora, who is expected to complete a permanent move to Viktoria Plzen in the coming days.
The newly-acquired Heorhiy Tsitaishvili, on loan from Dynamo Kyiv, is also unavailable, but the hosts should name a fairly familiar lineup, with Lubomir Satka and Antonio Milic featuring in the back four - veteran defender Bartosz Salamon is struggling with an injury, though.
Captain and centre-forward Mikael Ishak leads the line in attack, after scoring 18 times in last season's Ekstraklasa triumph.
Meanwhile, Qarabag's challenge will be led by Brazilian forward Kady, who was the club's joint-top scorer last term; netting five goals in their Conference League campaign.
Croatia-born Azerbaijan international Filip Ozobic will hope his free-kick goal in the recent friendly with Universitatea Craiova earns him a place in the visitors' midfield - particularly as Patrick Andrade has moved to Partizan Belgrade on a free transfer.
Well-travelled winger Marko Jankovic could make his first competitive start, after the 27-year-old Montenegrin international joined from Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Lech Poznan possible starting lineup:
Rudko; Pereira, Satka, Milic, Rebocho; Murawski, Karlstrom; Ba Loua, Amaral, Skoras; Ishak
Qarabag FK possible starting lineup:
Gugeshashvili; Vesovic, Medina, Medvedev, Bayramov; Almeida, Garayev; Kady, Ozobic, Zoubir; Wadji
We say: Lech Poznan 2-1 Qarabag FK
Both sides carry a goal threat, and as domestic champions, are used to taking the initiative. Eagerness to gain a first-leg lead could open up opportunities at either end, but Lech are set to get off to a winning start under their new manager.
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