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No hiding place for Schalke

Published: Thursday 7 October 2004, 14.51CET
Group A focus: FC Schalke 04 and Feyenoord want to make their rebuilding work count in a competitive group.
Published: Thursday 7 October 2004, 14.51CET

No hiding place for Schalke

Group A focus: FC Schalke 04 and Feyenoord want to make their rebuilding work count in a competitive group.

uefa.com assesses the form of the sides in UEFA Cup Group A ahead of the opening matches on 21 October.

* FEYENOORD

It has been a promising start for Ruud Gullit, who took over as Feyenoord coach this summer. Having revamped his side with the signings of Gábor Babos, Bart Goor, Romeo Castelen, Pascal Bosschaart, Bruno Basto and Karim Saidi, Gullit's team lie second in the Eredivisie, only three points behind unbeaten PSV Eindhoven.

Perhaps the star man has been Salomon Kalou, younger brother of Bonaventure Kalou, who left Feyenoord for AJ Auxerre in summer 2003. The 19-year-old has struck eight goals in seven games, while his attacking partner Dirk Kuijt has added six, keeping Belgian international Thomas Buffel, a regular for the last two campaigns, on the bench.

That in-form pair also claimed a goal apiece in last week's 4-1 home victory against Norway's Odd Grenland, completing a 5-1 aggregate triumph in the first-round tie. The only setback has been an shoulder injury to central defender Saidi, but he should be fit for Matchday 1 on 21 October, when Feyenoord entertain Heart of Midlothian FC.

* FC SCHALKE 04

The 1996/97 UEFA Cup winners have taken a circuitous route to this stage, qualifying via the UEFA Intertoto Cup for the second year running before overcoming Latvia's FHK Liepajas Metalurgs in the first round. Domestically, though, they have struggled and when they sat in the relegation zone six games in, coach Jupp Heynckes was replaced by Ralf Rangnick.

Schalke's strong squad was reinforced in the summer, with prolific striker Ailton and Mladen Krstajic both joining from Werder Bremen. Marcelo Bordon is another reinforcement, from VfB Stuttgart, but although Schalke have climbed the Bundesliga table under Rangnick, they are not yet realising their potential.

With Frank Rost, capped four times by Germany between 2002 and 2003, Schalke have a solid goalkeeper in their ranks. Bordon and Krstajic are the central defenders while the midfield comprises Danish international Christian Poulsen, Georgia's Levan Kobiashvili and Turkish prodigy Hamit Altintop. Up front Ailton, Germany striker Gerald Asamoah and Dane Ebbe Sand provide world-class options, and if Schalke hit form, they will progress far beyond the group stage.

* FC BASEL 1893

It was always going to be a tall order for Basel to match their domestic dominance of last season, but they still lead the Swiss Super League.

Basel are top on goal difference from FC Thun, although three weeks ago the previously unbeaten champions were two points adrift after a 4-1 defeat by the second-placed side. A 1-0 loss at FC Aarau followed for Basel, but Thun were beaten by Servette FC and last week the title-holders won 2-1 at Neuchâtel Xamax FC while Aarau held Thun.

Meanwhile, Basel dreams of returning to the UEFA Champions League group stage, where they starred two years ago, were dashed in the third qualifying round by FC Internazionale Milano. But Russian second-flight side FC Terek Grozny fell 3-1 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup first round, and while Hakan Yakin and Timothée Atouba have departed the club since their 2002/03 European heroics, the emergence of the Degen twins - David and Philipp - and the arrival of Croatian striker Mladen Petric have given coach Christian Gross new options.

* HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN FC

Hearts produced one of their finest European performances of recent years in defeating SC Braga 5-3 on aggregate to reach the group stage of the UEFA Cup, and manager Craig Levein has fashioned a side who are hard to beat against the backdrop of an estimated €25m debt and continued uncertainty over the future of their Tynecastle Stadium.

All Hearts's home UEFA Cup games are at nearby Murrayfield Stadium, base of the Scottish Rugby Union, and they are considering moving there on a full-time basis next season. However, the intervention of Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov, who wants to take a 20 per cent stake in the club, has given hope to supporters who wish to stay at Tynecastle.

On the pitch, Hearts have had a typically steady start with three wins, two draws and two defeats in the Scottish Premier League. Dutch forward Mark de Vries is the key player, as he demonstrated against Braga at the Estádio Municipal - making a remarkable comeback from a foot injury to score two vital away goals. Impressive displays in Braga, and at FC Girondins de Bordeaux last term, will offer hope for the trips to Feyenoord and Basel, while the 3-1 home win against Braga and impressive 18,203 crowd allayed fears about playing on the unfamiliar turf of Murrayfield.

* FERENCVÁROSI TC

Having dominated Hungarian football in completing the domestic double last season, Ferencváros have continued in similar fashion this term.

Led by new coach Csaba László, also assistant to Lothar Matthäus with the national team, Ferencváros have won seven of their opening eight Hungarian First Division fixtures, slipping up only against Kaposvári Rákóczi FC, and are three points clear of Debreceni VSC at the summit.

With Hungarian internationals Zoltán Balog, Péter Lipcsei, Gábor Gyepes, Dénes Rósa and Lajos Szücs, plus Slovenia's Adem Kapic and Serbo-Montenegrin player Dragan Vukmir in the side, Ferencváros also made it to the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, where they were narrowly eliminated by AC Sparta Praha. They were then comfortable winners against English tournament debutants Millwall FC to reach this UEFA Cup group stage.

Last updated: 08/10/04 19.07CET

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