FC Zenit St Petersburg may have been the only team to maintain a perfect record through the group stage, but even their players acknowledge "our chances of progress are 50-50 now" after being pitted against BSC Young Boys in Friday's round of 32 draw.
The 2008 UEFA Cup winners are on the crest of a wave after wrapping up the Russian Premier League title last month and cruising through Group G. However, Young Boys are next up for a side who will only return to competitive domestic action in late March. "Young Boys are quite a good team," said Zenit defender Tomáš Hubočan. "I saw some of their group matches. They defeated several big clubs including Stuttgart."
While Young Boys coach Vladimir Petković admitted Zenit were "not an opponent we hoped for", FC Spartak Moskva do not appear unduly concerned by the prospect of facing another Swiss Super League outfit in FC Basel 1893. "I don't know anything about Basel," said Spartak midfielder Kirill Kombarov. "But I am convinced we're good enough to beat them and we are also good enough to win the UEFA Europa League. CSKA and Zenit did it, we can too."
FC Rubin Kazan, dethroned domestically by Zenit, will meet Dutch champions FC Twente – both clubs entering from the UEFA Champions League – and coach Kurban Berdyev knows his charges face a tough examination. "Twente did well in the Champions League and took points off Inter and Tottenham," he said. "This kind of team cannot be weak."
Another Eredivisie outfit to drop out of Europe's premier club competition, AFC Ajax – four-time European Champion Clubs' Cup winners – meet Belgian neighbours RSC Anderlecht, with whom they progressed from UEFA Europa League Group A last term. "I can still remember those matches between Ajax and Anderlecht," said caretaker coach Frank de Boer. "I thought the teams were evenly matched. I think this will be a nice tie for the supporters."
Followers of FC Porto will have greater cause for optimism ahead of their side's visit to Seville – scene of their 2003 UEFA Cup triumph against Celtic FC. "There will be great emotions returning to Seville," said coach André Villas-Boas. "It's a city with great meaning to all Porto fans. It's a good trip and Sevilla FC are prestigious opponents."
Rangers FC followed their Glasgow rivals to the final five years later, beating Sporting Clube de Portugal en route, and they must overcome the Portuguese Liga outfit again if they are to reach the Dublin denouement in May. "We know we will face two really tough games because they are playing well and we had to play well to win there last time," said manager Walter Smith. "We played some good football against them across two legs and we will have to repeat that."
Liverpool FC, UEFA Cup winners in 2001, were another heavyweight in Friday's draw and it is AC Sparta Praha who will be looking to land the knockout blow on Roy Hodgson, who took Fulham FC to the final last term. "That's a great draw," said Sparta forward Václav Kadlec. "Nobody expects us to advance – it's a big challenge."
An equally stiff task faces VfB Stuttgart, whose new trainer Bruno Labbadia described their fixtures against SL Benfica as an "interesting draw". Rudi Garcia, in charge of Ligue 1 leaders LOSC Lille Métropole, meanwhile, declared himself "satisfied" ahead of their match-up with Eredivisie counterparts PSV Eindhoven, but labelled Fred Rutten's side as favourites to progress.
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