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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Liverpool's Toulouse task
Johan Elmander and Achille Emana

By John Sinnott

Liverpool have twice reached the Champions League final under manager Rafael Benitez in the three years the Spaniard has been in charge of the club.

It is an impressive record but 85 days after their defeat to AC Milan in the final in Athens, Benitez's side face Champions League debutants French side Toulouse in the first leg of the third qualifying round on Wednesday.

BBC Sport gives a 10-point guide to what Liverpool might find themselves up against as they bid to reach the group stages of the Champions League.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFICATION

Nantes fans protest after game with Toulouse

Toulouse left it late to reach the Champions League qualifying rounds, beating Bordeaux 3-1 on the last day of the Ligue 1 season back in May.

The win, courtesy of a hat-trick by Sweden striker Johan Elmander, pushed Toulouse up three places to third behind champions Olympique Lyon and runners-up Marseille.

But Toulouse's win over Bordeaux would not have been enough to ensure qualification had Rennes not drawn away at Lille.

Four minutes into added time Rennes were leading 1-0, a result that would guaranteed them third place.

But with only 20 seconds left, striker Nicolas Fauvergue equalised for the home side with a header, allowing Toulouse to snatch third place.

606: DEBATE

Toulouse's remarkable progression to the qualifying rounds was also given a helping hand by the French Professional Football League, who intervened on their behalf over crowd trouble at Nantes the previous weekend.

Toulouse were awarded three points after their match at relegated Nantes was abandoned when angry fans invaded the pitch.

Three minutes from the end, the match was level at 0-0 when it was stopped by the referee as hundreds of Nantes fans came on to the pitch.

EUROPEAN PEDIGREE

Diego Maradona

This is the first time Toulouse have qualified for the European Cup/Champions League in their 70-year history.

The club's most famous European victory came in the Uefa Cup first round 21 years ago when the French club beat Napoli 4-3 on penalties, with a certain Diego Maradona missing a spot-kick for the Italian club.

DOMESTIC FORM GUIDE

Andre-Pierre Gignac

Toulouse got off to a shocker on the opening day of the season on 4 August, losing 3-1 at Valenciennes.

So bad were Toulouse that coach Elie Baup ordered his squad to turn up for training the next day, a Sunday.

But Baup's tough love approach reaped its immediate reward as Toulouse beat champions Lyon 1-0 at home on Saturday, courtesy of a superb 90th-minute strike by Elmander.

True, Lyon had to play for nearly an hour with 10 men following the first-half dismissal of Kim Kallstrom but the win was a huge morale-booster ahead of the match against Liverpool.

"All week we worked on rediscovering our virtues, our desire, our solidarity," enthused Baup.

THE COACH

Elie Baup

Famous for his trademark baseball cap, Baup, who as a goalkeeper did not play for a top-flight French club, twice coached St Etienne - from 1994 to 1996 and from 2004 to 2006.

After the first spell with St Etienne, Baup moved to Bordeaux, whom he guided to the French title in 1999 and a League Cup success three years later.

He arrived at Toulouse in the summer of 2006 and in his first season in charge, against all expectations, Baup guided the club to the Champions League qualifying stages.

When he started out as a coach he was in charge of Toulouse's youth academy between 1984 and 1991.

He has described the task of trying to beat Liverpool as akin to scaling the Himalayas.

KEY MEN

Johan Elmander

Toulouse's pin-up boy is Swedish striker Elmander, who has previously played for Brondby and Feyenoord.

Last season the 26-year-old striker scored 11 goals, prompting a 7m bid for the Swedish striker from French champions Lyon.

Strong and powerfully built, Elmander is not only a goalscorer but is also highly adept at bringing other players into the game.

Look out as well for Elmander's strike partner Andre-Pierre Gignac, who scored nine goals for Lorient last season.

Just do not mention Gignac's name to Lille.

Over the summer the striker angered Lille when four days after signing for them he went to Toulouse after they offered him more money.

THE PRESIDENT

Toulouse striker and club president Olivier Sadran

Olivier Sadran headed a group of shareholders who acquired Toulouse when the club was in receivership in 2001.

He is clearly a consummate negotiator, witness the way he persuaded Gignac to join Les Violets rather than Lille.

THE STADIUM

Stade Municipal

The Municipal Stadium, surrounded by greenery on an island on the Garonne, was used for the 1998 World Cup.

It is a simple, elegant oval, known to Toulouse fans as 'little Wembley'.

Toulouse's rugby team also play at the stadium, which has a capacity of 34,000.

THE CITY

Garonne river

Toulouse is a rose-coloured city deep in the south-west of France. It is known as the pink city - Les Violets' away kit is a very fetching shade of pink.

Over 2,000 years old, with dramatic buildings in brick, red tile and stone, it is the fifth biggest city in France and the centre of the country's aeronautics and missile industries.

Toulouse has 220 hectares of listed buildings - the most in France - and the beautiful Canal du Midi (a Unesco World Heritage Site) runs through it.

WEATHER FORECAST

Sundial

With the game kicking off at 1530 BST it is likely to be hot on Wednesday, with temperatures during the day expected to touch 90 degrees.

Toulouse's game with Lyon over the weekend was also played in soaring temperatures and Baup is concerned about how much had been taken out of his players.

"It was very hot," said Baup. "It won't be easy to play again in the same conditions on Wednesday."

AND FINALLY

Plaster cast

Toulouse mayor Jean-Luc Moudenc broke his ankle after being thrown into the football club's bath in celebration of the club qualifying for the Champions League.

Who knows what will be in store for Moudenc should Toulouse pull off the mother of Champions League shocks against Liverpool?

SEE ALSO
Toulouse v Liverpool
14 Aug 07 |  Europe
Alan Hansen's column
13 Aug 07 |  Europe
Lyon may join battle for Heinze
14 Aug 07 |  Man Utd
Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool
11 Aug 07 |  Premier League


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