With six representatives, no country has a bigger contingent in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup first round than France as the birthplace of European club competition aims to win the trophy for the first time.
French Cup winners AJ Auxerre and League Cup holders RC Strasbourg were already in the hat along with UEFA Cup debutants Stade Rennais FC. Then on Tuesday, Olympique de Marseille and RC Lens took the number of French UEFA Intertoto Cup winners to 12 in a decade, and AS Monaco FC exited the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round at the hands of Real Betis Balompié. Even so, this is not a record number of French teams in this stage - there were seven in 1998/99.
Rennes play Osasuna
Perhaps the toughest test has been handed to Rennes, who play CA Osasuna of Spain. Rennes coach Laszlo Bölöni said: "I don't know Osasuna very well. I'll monitor them on Sunday in Spain. This first round won't be a stroll I'm sure but if we want to improve we must get through such fixtures."
Monaco, meanwhile, must bounce back from their own experience against Spanish opposition when they play Dutch team Willem II. "I don't know this side but it must be possible for us to progress," Monaco president Michel Pastor said. "We hope we will win all our games. I think we can put together a more than decent run."
When Monaco reached the Champions League final in 2004, Marseille made it to the UEFA Cup showpiece - only to lose to Valencia CF as they had against Parma FC five years before. In the 2005/06 first round they tackle Belgian Cup holders KFC Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen, and Marseille coach Jean Fernandez, mastermind of their dramatic 5-1 success against RC Deportivo La Coruña in Tuesday's Intertoto Cup final, is pleased.
"It's a good draw," he said. "We could have had worse opponents, like [SC] Braga or [PFC CSKA] Sofia. Moreover, we stage the second leg. It's important because [Mamadou] Niang and [Franck] Ribéry will be suspended for the first. Germinal Beerschot are a team I know because I was very interested in Belgian football during my three seasons at FC Metz [from 2002-05]."
Marseille's fellow Intertoto Cup heroes Lens play Poland's Groclin Grodzisk Wielkopolski, whose previous UEFA Cup campaign in 2003/04 took them to the third round past Hertha BSC Berlin and Manchester City FC. Lens coach Francis Gillot, whose side accounted for Lech Poznan in the Intertoto Cup, said: "The Polish championship has just started. We cannot really judge Groclin, but they are probably on a par with Poznan."
Strasbourg, 1995 Intertoto Cup victors, went out in the first round to R. Standard de Liège in their last UEFA Cup appearance four years ago, and this time round take on Grazer AK. "I have very good memories of Austrian teams," coach Jacky Duguépéroux said. "In the past we have beaten FC Tirol Innsbruck. Austrian football is similar to German. GAK are a team who finish high in their domestic league on a regular basis and we need to respect them."
Finally, Auxerre have been drawn against PFC Levski Sofia as they aim to match or better last season's quarter-final placing. Like Rennes, Monaco and Lens, they are at home for the first leg on 15 September, with Marseille and Strasbourg having the advantage in the return two weeks later.
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