On Friday morning three British teams found out their opponents for the 2013-14 Europa League campaign.
And Premier League outfit Swansea were handed the toughest task to advance after landing Valencia in group A, as the Welsh side are competing in Europe for the first-time in over 22 years.
Michael Laudrup’s side face former winners Valencia and tough trips to Russia’s Kuban Krasnodar and Switzerland’s St Gallen. Many expect big things from the Swans with their possession based play more suited to European soccer than the hustle and bustle of the PL.
The Premier League’s other entrant, Tottenham Hotspur, face some tricky away trips to Eastern Europe as they landed Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, FC Sheriff from Moldova and Norway’s Tromso in group K. Andre Villas-Boas has won the Europa League with FC Porto in the past and came agonizingly close to getting Spurs to the semifinals last year, as they were knocked out by Swiss side Basel in the quarterfinals on penalties. Tottenham will be one of the favorites this season.
The final British team in the competition is Championship side Wigan Athletic, after they qualified by winning the 2012-13 FA Cup. The Latics face the bizarre situation of being outside the English top-flight but still competing in one of Europe’s elite club competitions. This Europa League campaign also marks Wigan’s first-ever European adventure and Owen Coyle’s side face Maribor, Zulte Waregem and recent Champions League qualifiers Rubin Kazan in group D.
Plenty of US players will take part in Europa League action and USMNT striker Aron Johannsson and his AZ Alkmaar face PAOK Thessaloniki, Maccabi Haifa and Shakhter Karagandy. Elsewhere Terrence Boyd’s Rapid Vienna will face Dynamo Kiev, Genk and Thun. Look out for those two players to make a real splash.
Standing head and shoulders above the rest, there are a few tough groups stacked with big clubs in this seasons Europa League. Group J includes Italian side Lazio, Turkish team Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw of Poland who almost qualified for the Champions League and Apollon Limassol from Cyprus. And Group I boasts regular Champions League qualifiers Lyon, La Liga outfit Real Betis, Guimaraes from Portugal and Croatian side Rijeka.
12 groups of four teams were drawn in Monaco as Europe’s second biggest club competition will begin play on September 19. The six matchdays will coincide with the Champions League dates, with games played on Thursday’s, and the group stages will finish on December 12. Then the eight third-placed Champions League teams join the 24 qualified Europa League teams for the knockout stages. This has been a controversial topic in Europe for many years but will go ahead again this season, as the 48 teams original Europa League sides battle it out to make the final in Turin at Juventus Stadium on May 14.
Full Europa League draw:
Group A: Valencia, Swansea, Kuban Krasnodar, St Gallen.
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Dinamo Zagreb, Chornomorets Odesa, Ludogorets Razgrad.
Group C: Standard Liege, Salzburg, Elfsborg, Esbjerg.
Group D: Rubin Kazan, Wigan, Maribor, Zulte Waregem.
Group E: Fiorentina, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Pacos Ferreira, Pandurii Targu Jiu.
Group F: Bordeaux, APOEL, Eintracht, Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Group G: Dynamo Kiev, Genk, Rapid Vienna, Thun.
Group H: Sevilla, Freiburg, Estoril, Slovan Liberec.
Group I: Lyon, Real Betis, Guimaraes, Rijeka.
Group J: Lazio, Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw, Apollon Limassol.
Group K: Tottenham, Anzhi Makhachkala, Sheriff, Tromso.
Group L: AZ Alkmaar, PAOK Thessaloniki, Maccabi Haifa, Shakhter Karagandy.