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Soccer: AC Milan draw PSV in Champions, Balotelli OK

7-time champions in preliminaries, Juve, Napoli in group stage

Soccer: AC Milan draw PSV in Champions, Balotelli OK

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, August 9 - AC Milan were unlucky in Friday's draw for the Champions League playoffs, which pitched the seven-time European champions against Dutch team PSV Eindhoven. But the Serie A side also had some good news Friday as medical tests on Italy forward Mario Balotelli failed to detect any major injuries, after he took a knock to his right calf in a friendly against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the United States. This means Milan should be able to field their best player in the two-match tie against PSV to decide who progresses to the group stage of the lucrative Champions League, Europe's premier club competition. Balotelli is also expected to be called up for Italy's friendly against Argentina on Wednesday at Rome's Stadio Olimpico in honour of Pope Francis. PSV, last season's runners-up in the Dutch top flight, were probably the toughest side Milan could have been drawn against for the playoff. "The tie against PSV Eindhoven is the most important contest of the season," said Milan's organisational director Umberto Gandini at the draw at the headquarters of European soccer's governing body UEFA in the Swiss city of Nyon. "Reaching the group stage is an absolute priority. "But it won't be easy to progress. Even though they've sold some important players, PSV are a very good team. "According to the UEFA rankings, they are the strongest team we could have ended up against". Milan have to try to reach the Champions League's group stage via the preliminaries after finishing third in Serie A last season. Serie A champions Juventus and runners-up Napoli qualified directly for the group stage. Milan will face the Dutch team away on August 20, with the return leg at Milan's San Siro Stadium on August 28. "Playing the return leg at our home ground may be a tiny advantage," said Gandini. CEO Adriano Galliani, meanwhile, said Friday that Milan are set to sign Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda in January as they look unlikely to persuade CSKA Moscow to let him go in the closed-season transfer window. Milan made Honda one of their top transfer targets but the Russian champions have so far proved unwilling to consider letting one of their best players go, ahead of the start of the group stage of the Champions League next month. So Galliani said Milan will probably just wait until his contract with CSKA expires at the end of the year and sign the 27-year-old in January as a free agent. "He'll come in January," Galliani told reporters. "If they want to give him to us before, fine, otherwise we'll wait until January". Japanese media, on the other hand, quoted Honda as saying Milan and CSKA were close to reaching a deal. Italy's two teams in the draw for the playoffs of the continent's secondary competition, the Europa League, also ended up with relatively tough opposition. Fiorentina will face Czech side Slovan Liberec and Udinese will take on Zurich's Grasshoppers. Italian Cup-winners Lazio have qualified directly for the Europa League group stage.

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