The 2013/14 UEFA Europa League is more diverse than ever with a record number of nations represented; UEFA.com fishes out the key facts and firsts for the 48 starters.
The 43rd edition of this competition – and fifth since the advent of the UEFA Europa League – will conclude at Turin's Juventus Stadium, with the city staging its first stand-alone UEFA club competition final. The new arena is on the site of the old Stadio delle Alpi, which hosted games in two previous two-legged UEFA Cup finals: AFC Ajax drew 2-2 with Torino FC there en route to edging the 1992 showpiece on away goals; the following year Juventus capped a 6-1 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund with a 3-0 success at the stadium. At their previous home in the city, the Stadio Comunale, Juventus had won 1-0 against Athletic Club and 3-1 against ACF Fiorentina in the first legs of their 1977 and 1990 UEFA Cup final triumphs.
The group stage of the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League features five teams who have previously won the competition: Valencia CF (2004), Eintracht Frankfurt (1980), PSV Eindhoven (1978) and two-time winners Sevilla FC (2006 & 2007) and Tottenham Hotspur FC (1972 & 1984). PSV are the only side on this season's starting grid to have also lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup (in 1988). FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk coach Juande Ramos landed the UEFA Cup twice as Sevilla coach, while PAOK FC's Huub Stevens has picked it up as both player (PSV, 1978) and coach (FC Schalke 04, 1997). Tottenham Hotspur FC boss André Villas-Boas, however, is the sole coach involved who has prevailed during the UEFA Europa League era (FC Porto, 2011).
The 48 teams in the UEFA Europa League group stage include sides from 27 countries – breaking the record of 25 set last season. Half of UEFA's 54 member associations thus have a direct stake in the competition, with Kazakhstan represented for the first time in a UEFA club competition group stage, by FC Shakhter Karagandy. Coaches of 29 nationalities are taking part, with Portugal accounting for six, while FC St Gallen boss Jeff Saibene becomes the first Luxembourger coach to figure in a UEFA club competition. FC Rubin Kazan's Turkmenistan-born Kurban Berdyev is the only coach from outside Europe in the lineup.
Participating teams in 2013/14 UEFA Europa League by nationality
3 Russia, Spain, England, Ukraine, Belgium, Portugal,
2 Switzerland, Croatia, Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Cyprus, Germany, France, Israel
1 Bulgaria, Denmark, Sweden, Slovenia, Romania, Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, Norway, Moldova, Greece, Kazakhstan
Coaches in 2013/14 UEFA Europa League by nationality
3 Germany, Spain
2 Denmark, Romania, Croatia, Ukraine, Israel, France, Russia
1 Serbia, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Sweden, Turkmenistan, Scotland, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Norway, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Turkey, Poland, Cyprus, Moldova
*SS Lazio coach Vladimir Petković was born and raised in Sarajevo but later took Swiss citizenship
The UEFA Europa League's horizons have broadened – and not just in terms of the nationalities of competing teams. Last term 3,932km separated the northernmost and southernmost clubs – Molde FK of Norway and Israel's Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC. Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC have replaced their local rivals as the southernmost side, with Tromsø IL pushing the tournament's northern frontier inside the Arctic Circle – 4,299km dividing the two teams. In east-west terms, Shakhter's involvement makes the numbers even more dramatic; last season Neftçi PFK's home city in Azerbaijan lay 5,894km east of CS Marítimo's Funchal home on Madeira. Now the journey from Karagandy to Estoril Praia (home of the eponymous Portuguese outfit) is 6,358km – reduced to 6,188km given Shakhter will play their home games in Astana.
Shakhter are Kazakhstan's first group stage entrants but they are relative veterans compared with the four sides who have reached the group stage in their first European campaigns. Russia's FC Kuban Krasnodar have made a flying start, winning all four qualifying games; Portugal's Estoril remain unbeaten in four European matches as well – three victories and a draw; and Romania's CS Pandurii Târgu Jiu's six qualifiers include one defeat, though they take huge credit for having ousted Hapoel Tel-Aviv and 2011 UEFA Europa League finalists SC Braga to get this far. English debutants Wigan Athletic FC, meanwhile, join the fray blind – having qualified for the group stage as FA Cup winners, they make their continental bow on matchday one.
The UEFA Champions League may be the more prestigious competition yet there is no doubting the quality of the teams that have made it to the UEFA Europa League, which include nine domestic champions: NK Maribor (SVN), FC Sheriff (MDA), Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR), PFC Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL), Legia Warszawa (POL), Shakhter (KAZ), APOEL FC (CYP), GNK Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) and IF Elfsborg (SWE). Maribor and Legia were also domestic double winners in 2012/13, while ten other sides prevailed in national club competitions to reach this stage: Wigan (ENG, FA Cup), Swansea City AFC (ENG, League Cup), PAOK (GRE), AZ Alkmaar (NED), FC Girondins de Bordeaux (FRA), Apollon Limassol FC (CYP), KRC Genk (BEL), Lazio (ITA), Vitória SC (POR) and Esbjerg fB (DEN).
A place in history
Appearing on the list of the competition's all-time leading scorers looks to be too big a task for any of the players in this season's tournament. Henrik Larsson remains nine points clear at the top of the board, with his nearest challengers – Falcao and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – not involved in the group stage. Giuseppe Bergomi and Frank Rost seem similarly safe at the head of the appearances list, though PAOK attacker Dimitris Salpingidis may fancy his chances of gatecrashing the top five by the end of the group stage; he has made 61 UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League outings to date – six more will put the 32-year-old level with Walid Badier in fourth place in the all-time standings.
Most UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup appearances
96 Giuseppe Bergomi (FC Internazionale Milano)
90 Frank Rost (SV Werder Bremen, FC Schalke 04, Hamburger SV)
69 Walter Zenga (FC Internazionale Milano)
67 Walid Badier (Hapoel Petach-Tikva FC, Maccabi Haifa FC, Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC)
66 Enzo Scifo (RSC Anderlecht, FC Internazionale Milano, FC Girondins de Bordeaux, AJ Auxerre, Torino Calcio, AS Monaco FC)
Most UEFA Europa League/UEFA Cup goals
40 Henrik Larsson (Feyenoord, Celtic FC, Helsingborgs IF)
31 Falcao (FC Porto, Club Atlético de Madrid)
30 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (sc Heerenveen, AFC Ajax, FC Schalke 04)
29 Dieter Müller (1. FC Köln, VfB Stuttgart, FC Girondins de Bordeaux)
27 Shota Arveladze (FC Dinamo Tbilisi, Trabzonspor AŞ, AFC Ajax, Rangers FC, AZ Alkmaar)
©UEFA.com 1998-2013. All rights reserved.