Group stage draw pits Villareal against Lazio

Clashes between Spanish and Italian clubs was a theme of the Champions League draw on Thursday night and it continued on Friday, with the Europa League draw. The clash between Villareal and Lazio will be one of the highlights of the group stage.


AFP - The clash between Spanish side Villarreal and Italian giants Lazio will be one of the highlights of the Europa League group stage after the draw made here on Friday.

Spanish clubs taking on Italians was a theme of the Champions League draw on Thursday night and it continued Friday with Villarreal meeting Lazio in a Group G which also includes Bulgaria's Levski Sofia and Austrian outfit Salzburg.

Another Spanish side Valencia were drawn in Group B with France's Lille, Czech champions Slavia Prague and Italian side Genoa.

Valencia have come back from the brink of bankruptcy last season and are among the favourites in a competition they won three times - 1962, 1963 and 2004.

The last UEFA Cup winners FC Shakhtar Donetsk will, meanwhile, bid to become the first team to be crowned champions of the competition's successor against FC Bruges of Belgium, Partizan Belgrade and French club Toulouse.

Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar, who face Champions League winners Barcelona in the final of the European Super Cup later Friday, have been placed in Group J among 12 pools of four in the new competition.

"It's a difficult group but maybe a little less so than others," said Toulouse coach Alain Casanova. "There are the overwhelming favourites in Shakhtar Donetsk, the title holders. As for Partizan Belgrade, Serbian football is always quality, but maybe it's not what it used to be. The draw suits me and I think we have a chance to qualify."

Last year's beaten finalists Werder Bremen of Germany, will take on Austria Vienna, Athletic Bilbao and Nacional Madeira in Group L.

Premier League side Everton, meanwhile, could face a potentially tricky tie against former European Cup winners Benfica in Group I.

The Lisbon club won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962 and reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 1983. The two clubs will also face Greek side AEK Athens and BATE Borisov from Belarus.

Everton club secretary David Harrison said: "Benfica is a tie everyone will be looking forward to but it will be a tough night both home and away.

"Belarus will have plenty of its own difficulties to cope with there, and AEK Athens are a big club too."

Harrison said he preferred the new format over the old UEFA Cup where each group contained five clubs, with each playing two sides at home and two different ones away.

He added: "The finances this year are increased and in the old format there was a lot of luck involved. This evens things up a bit now."

Scottish giants Celtic, who crashed out of the Champions League at the play-off stage after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Arsenal, are up against Hamburg, Israeli side Hapoel Tel-Aviv and Rapid Vienna in Group C.

The Greco-Turkish duel between Galatasaray and Panathinaikos in Group F should provide fireworks as should the tie between Benelux countries with former European giants Ajax of the Netherlands and Belgian side Anderlecht in Group A.

English club Fulham travel to Italy to take on Roma and must also play Swiss side Basel and CSKA Sofia of Bulgaria in Group E.

The first round of matches will be played on Thursday, September 17, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the last 32, where they will be joined by the eight third-placed teams from the Champions League group phase.

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