The New Europa League Kicks Off!

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The New Europa League Kicks Off!
Just in case you didn't know . . . the Europa League is the new set-up and name for the former UEFA Cup which had been in existence for 39 years. Unlike the Fairs Cup, which was not recognised as the official predecessor of the UEFA, for football records purposes these two competitions are considered the same.
 
The first games of the group stage take place on Thursday 17 September with the top two qualifiers from the 12 groups of 4 progressing to the next round where they will meet the 8 3rd placed teams from the Champions League for the final phase of the Europa League, consisting of 32 clubs.
 
Whilst not as attractive as the Champions League, the very first edition of the Europa League has a promising mixture of big names from major leagues and newcomers from less well-established European football associations.

 
Group A - AFC Ajax, FC Timisoara, NK Dinamo Zagreb, RSC Anderlecht

Ajax are the favourites to top Group A although they face stiff competition in a group filled with teams with a wealth of European experience. Timisoara will be relatively unknown to many but defeated the current UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk in a Champions League qualifier before being knocked out by Stuttgart.

 
Group B - Valencia CF, LOSC Lille, SK Slavia Prague, Genoa CFC

Valencia have managed to get through a summer of constant speculation surrounding their players relatively unscathed and look like the team to beat in Group B. They face stiff competition from Lille, Slavia Prague and Genoa but are certainly favourites in Group B.

Group C - Celtic FC, Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC, Hamburger SV, SK Rapid Vienna

Celtic will be looking to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the UEFA Champions League with a successful Europa League campaign but have a tough start against Hapoel-Tel Aviv. The Hoops face a difficult passage into the next round as they are also up against strong Bundesliga outfit Hamburg and Austria side Rapid Vienna.

Group D - Sporting Lisboa, FK Ventspils, SC Heerenveen, Hertha Berlin

Sporting and Ventspils both missed out on a place in the Champions League after suffering defeats in the playoff round with Sporting in particular feeling hard done by going out to Fiorentina in away goals. Both teams will be hoping for a good Europa League run to make up for the failure to reach the Champions League but Heerenveen and Hertha Berlin are two good teams they have to navigate past.

Group E - AS Roma, FC Basel, CSKA Sofia, Fulham FC

Roma are the pick of the bunch for Group E and are the early favourites for the group but Basel and CSKA Sofia are both used to European competition and they are always hard places to visit. Fulhma are the other team in Group E and will be tough opponents if they can replicate the form that earned them their Europa League spot last season.

Group F - Panathinaikos FC, Galatasaray SC, FC Dinamo Bucharest, SK Sturm Graz

Group F is made up of Panathinakios, Galatasaray, Dinamo Bucharest and Sturm Graz. All of these teams are used to European competition and this will be one of the most competitive groups in this season Europa League, with the Greek-Turkish clash between Panathinaikos and Galatasaray looking like the definite highlight.

Group G - Villarreal CF, SS Lazio, PFC Levski Sofia, FC Salzburg

There are no easy games in Group G with Villarreal, Lazio, Levski Sofia and Red Bull Salzburg all competing for the two qualifying ports. Lazio and Villarreal are certainly the early group favourites but tough trips to Austria and Bulgaria could quickly derail their bids for Europa League glory.

Group H - FC Steaua Bucharest, SK Fenerbache, FC Twente, FC Sheriff Tiraspol

Group H is made up of Steaua Bucharest, Fenerbache, FC Twente and Sheriff Tiraspol. Sheriff Tiraspol were Moldovan champions last season and were defeated in the playoff round for the Champions League so although they are relatively unheard of they cannot be ignored. The other 3 teams in the competition are well known with this group expected to be a hard fought one.

Group I - Everton FC, AEK Athens, SL Benfica, FC BATE

Everton haven't had the best start to the season having lost 3 of their first 4 games but they will be hoping for better luck in the Europa League when they kick off against AEK Athens. Benfica and BATE are the other teams in Group I.

Group J - FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Club Bruuge KV, FK Partizan, Toulouse FC

Shakhtar Dontesk were UEFA Cup champions last season and will be hoping to be the first team to win the new Europa League after they were knocked out of qualification for the Champions League. Club Bruuge, Partizan and Toulouse all stand in the way of a Shaktar qualifying form Group J.

Group K - PSV Eindhoven, FC Copenhagen, AC Sparta Prague, CFR Cluj

Group K will be another tough group with PSV, Copenhagen, Sparta Prague and Cluj all having good European experience. Sparta Prague and Copenhagen both
dropped out of Champions League qualifying so will be hoping that a Europa League run can go some way to making up for the disappointment.

Group L - Werder Bremen, FK Austria Wien, Athletic Club Bilbao, CD Nacional

Group L is made up of Werder Bremen, Austria Wien, Atheltic Bilbao and Nacional. Werder Bremen will be the early favourites for the group but Group L looks like being another hard fought group with every team having a chance to qualify.
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