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FINAL HURDLE FALLERS

6 of the best teams to get knocked out at the Champions League qualification stages

Imagine slogging it out all season to qualify for the Champions League only to get knocked out during the play-off rounds

You’ve worked all season to qualify for the Champions League.

You’ve got the t-shirts printed. You’ve gone out and bought some shiny new players fit for Europe’s premier competition.

But you forgot all about the play-offs. The draw is made and you’ve pulled out one of Europe’s sleeping giants. Before you know it you’re out of the Champions League, just like these lot.

There’s always next year fella

PA:Press Association
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There’s always next year fella

Parma (2001/02)

Fresh from a fourth placed Serie A finish Parma were drawn against a workmanlike Lille side, captained by Pascal Cygan, in the third qualification round.

It shouldn’t have been a problem for a squad featuring the enigmatic talents of Hidetoshi Nakata and Hakan Sukur in attack, with Sebastien Frey, Fabio Cannavaro and Matias Almeyda all providing defensive steel.

But Lille hadn’t read the script and took a 2-0 win in the Stadio Ennio Tardini back to France with them.

A stunning Roberto Sensini free-kick in the 27th minute gave the Italians momentum but Lille held on to qualify, although they didn’t make it out of Group G when the tournament came around.

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Newcastle United (2003/04)

Newcastle’s reward for finishing third in the Premier League was a play-off game against Partizan Belgrade, meaning a trip to the raucous Partizan Stadium.

Nolberto Solano gave Newcastle a 1-0 win to take back to the Toon, with Jonathan Woodgate putting in a Rolls Royce performance to keep Partizan quiet.

But back in St James’ Park a goal from Ivica Iliev equalised for Partizan, and with neither side able to find a winner the game went to penalties.

In time-honoured fashion the first three English players to step up for Newcastle- Alan Shearer, Kieron Dyer and Woodgate- all failed to score, with an Aaron Hughes miss sealing defeat.

This is no time for head massages Jermaine

PA:Press Association
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This is no time for head massages Jermaine

Everton (2005/06)

Everton had partied all summer after finishing above Liverpool the previous season (just don’t mention the fact their arch-rivals had won the Champions League).

But those parties were cut short when they drew Juan Roman Riquelme’s Villarreal in the third round qualifiers.

Consecutive 2-1 losses, the last of which was mired in controversy when a Duncan Ferguson header was ruled out by Pierluigi Collina, saw Everton crash out.

Everton could hold their heads up high, especially when Villarreal proceeded to go on a run to the semi-finals- one Riquelme penalty away from beating Arsenal and reaching the final.

Nigel Martyn was no match for the Yellow Submarine

Getty Images - Getty
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Nigel Martyn was no match for the Yellow Submarine

Ajax (2007/08)

Ajax’s spine of Jaap Stam, Thomas Vermaelen, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Luis Suarez should have ensured progression against Slavia Prague.

But beneath the surface this was an Ajax side in decline, smarting from the loss of Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel to Real Madrid and Liverpool.

A missed Huntelaar penalty in the first-leg set the tone for an underwhelming Ajax performance, with Slavia Prague coming out 3-1 winners overall.

A tough group draw- alongside Sevilla and Arsenal- meant Slavia Prague didn’t progress past the group stages.

Ajax were always going to struggle with Suarez in goal

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Ajax were always going to struggle with Suarez in goal

Napoli (2014/15)

Rafael Benitez’s Napoli side had an attack that was the envy of most teams in Europe, spearheaded by Gonzalo Higuain.

But in Ernesto Valverde’s vibrant Athletic Bilbao outfit they met their match.

Higuain equalised Iker Muniain’s opener in Naples, but Bilbao made full use of home advantage in the second-leg despite going behind.

Again Higuain scored, only for an Aritz Aduriz double and Ibai Gomez’s decisive strike to knock Napoli out of the Champions League.

Ring a ring o’roses…

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Ring a ring o’roses…

Monaco (2015/16)

Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, Anthony Martial, Ricardo Carvalho and Jeremy Toulalan all lined up for Monaco to take on Valencia in the Mestalla as Monaco looked to take their position at the top table of European football once again.

But Leonardo Jardim’s side were taught a footballing lesson as goals from Rodrigo, Daniel Parejo and Sofiane Feghouli secured a 3-1 first-leg lead for Valencia.

A 2-1 win back in the Stade Louis II wasn’t enough to overturn the deficit, and Monaco were sent packing.

What a difference a Kylian Mbappe can make.

Name a more iconic duo

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Name a more iconic duo