The presence of a number of major clubs gives added spice to this season's UEFA Europa League springtime climax – and promises more memorable action for the fans.
"This is now the third full season of the revised UEFA Europa League," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said at the rounds of 32 and 16 draw ceremony in Nyon on Friday, "and the format is well accepted by both clubs and fans alike.
"This year in particular we see some very big and strong footballing names joining the UEFA Europa League knockout phase," he added. "Former UEFA Champions League winners like Manchester United FC, FC Porto, AFC Ajax, and UEFA Champions League finalists like Valencia CF. Big club names from the UEFA Champions League that only add to the excitement as we enter the direct knockout phase in the new year."
Bucharest will host the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League final on 9 May, and the ambassador for the showpiece match, Miodrag Belodedici, was in Nyon to help make the draws. Belodedici, a European Champion Clubs' Cup winner in 1986 with FC Steaua Bucureşti and in 1991 with FK Crvena zvezda – becoming the first player to win it with two different clubs – reflected on Bucharest's pride in staging the event.
"The interest is enormous and there are great expectations among the people of Bucharest," he said, "and we hope that the stadium will be packed for the final. The atmosphere will certainly be fantastic in the brand-new National Arena."
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