UEFA Cup Group Stage: Draw Round Up
Portsmouth will be celebrating at the thought of facing AC Milan in the UEFA Cup in the next couple of months, with Peter Crouch no doubt particularly keen to get one over on the side he was left out against in Liverpool's Champions League final defeat just 15 months ago.
Here is a re-cap of the full draw...
FC Schalke 04, Paris St Germain, Manchester City, Racing Santander, FC Twente.
Not an easy draw from a Man City perspective, but it should be one they are capable of progressing from. Schalke are strong but not the most daunting of the top seeds, while Paris St Germain are not setting the world alight under Paul Le Guen.
Santander will be tough opponents from pot four, while Steve Mclaren will get another chance against English opposition and will be hoping for a run in the competition to improve his reputation.
Predicted Qualifiers: Man City, FC Schalke 04, Racing Santander.
SL Benfica, Olympiakos, Galatasaray, Hertha Berlin, FC Metalist Kharkiv.
This group is as unpredictable as they come. Metalist will be underdogs, but they eliminated Besiktas in round one so will be dangerous opponents for anyone.
Top seeds Benfica have made a stuttering start to the Portuguese season, as have Hertha in Germany, while Olympiakos were beaten by Anorthosis Famagusta in Champions League quallfying, but are top of the Greek league.
Galatasaray have struggled in recent seasons by their standards, and are currently sixth in the Turkish league. What the hell, I will take a shot anyway:
Predicted Qualifiers: SL Benfica, Galatasaray, FC Metalist Kharkiv.
Sevilla FC, VFB Stuttgart, UC Sampdoria, FK Partizan Belgrade, Standard Liege.
Another tight group in prospect here. Standard Liege were one of the pot five teams who everyone would have been looking to avoid, given their excellent displays against both Liverpool and Everton recently.
Sevilla are looking for a third UEFA Cup in four seasons, and while that may be beyond them, they are still a quality side. Stuttgart sit third in Germany and in Mario Gomez boast one of the most coveted strikers in Europe (despite his rubbish Euro 2008!).
Sampdoria have made a terrible start to the Italian league season, without a win in six games, while a trip to Belgrade is always a tough match and they are already six points clear in Serbia, having won six out of six.
All of those sixes add up to a devilish group.
Predicted Qualifiers: Sevilla FC, VFB Stuttgart, Partizan Belgrade.
Tottenham Hotspur, FC Spartak Moscow, Udinese, Dinamo Zagreb, NEC Nijmegen.
Spurs were probably the pot one side that all the other teams did want to meet, given their form, and although the draw could have been worse for Juande Ramos' side, at the moment they don't look capable of beating anyone with a pulse.
NEC are struggling in the Dutch league, so should have little chance in this group, while Luka Modric will be up against his old team in Dinamo Zagreb. The loss of Modric has made little difference to them as they sit five points clear in Croatia.
Spartak are enduring a torrid season in Russia, sitting in seventh place with only six games to go, while Udinese have made a strong start to Serie A. Unbelievably, I still think Spurs will get through.
Predicted Qualifiers: Spurs, Udinese, Dinamo Zagreb.
AC Milan, SC Heerenveen, SC Braga, Portsmouth, VFL Wolfsburg.
The Rossoneri will not be too worried about this group and should expect a relatively comfortable qualification if they maintain recent improved form.
Heerenveen are hot at home but weak on their travels, while Braga have won only one of five league games this season, so should hold no fears for Pompey who saw off Guimaraes in round one.
Wolfsburg are yet to win away in Germany, but will not be the group whipping boys. Third place could be tight, but its hard to look past Milan and Pompey for the top two spots. Pompey might even get a famous result against Ronaldinho and co—stranger things have happened.
Predicted Qualifiers: AC Milan, Portsmouth, Heerenveen.
SV Hamburg, Ajax, Slavia Prague, Aston Villa, MSK Zilina.
The Villains must be pretty content with this draw, which should see them in the knock-out stage. A trip to Slovakia to face Zilina would be a trip in to the unknown, but Villa should have too much for them, and they might well draw them at home anyway.
Slavia lead the Czech league after nine games, and will need to be respected given their European experience.
On paper Ajax is a tough game, but they are struggling badly in Holland and were beaten 5-2 by Heerenveen last time out.
Hamburg will be a real test as they lead the German League, but Martin O'Neill is a former finalist in this competition with Celtic, and he could well go that far again this year.
Predicted Qualifiers: SV Hamburg, Aston Villa, Slavia Prague.
Valencia CF, Club Brugge, Rosenborg, FC Copenhagen, St Etienne.
Revitalised Valencia will be looking to put last season's horrors behind them, and the 2004 winners will be fancied to go all the way by many.
Club Brugge have made a strong start in Belgium and will fancy their chances of qualification, while European regulars Rosenborg are always obdurate opponents but lack quality.
St Etienne are a blast from the past but their home form could be crucial in this group and Bafetembi Gomis will be expected to provide the goals.
Copenhagen have had recent Champions League excursions but the Danish league is not the strongest and they might struggle here.
Predicted Qualifiers: Valencia SF, Club Brugge, St Etienne.
CSKA Moscow, Deportivo La Coruna, Feyenoord, AS Nancy, Lech Poznan.
This could be another "toss a coin" group. CSKA won this competition only a few years ago, and while they are not as strong as they were, they are still currently second in the Russian league.
Deportivo have made a typical start to their La Liga season, good at home and bad on their travels. Feyenoord, meanwhile, have won only one of their five league games in Holland and are in a bad place by their standards.
Nancy have been the draw specialists so far in France, with five from eight league games, while Lech Poznan have started the Polish season reasonably well and appear well equipped as an away side with three wins in four games.
What the hell, lets plump for the underdog.
Predicted Qualifiers: CSKA Moscow, Deportivo La Coruna, Lech Poznan.
Betting on outright winner, best prices correct on 7th October 2008:
AC Milan 5-1
Man City 14-1
Aston Villa 16-1
Standard Liege 40-1
Value Bet: Hamburg e/w at 33's looks good to me.
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