The UEFA Europa League group stage openers will revive some happy memories for Club Atlético de Madrid, with Irish debutants Shamrock Rovers FC vying to impress on the night that AEK Athens FC's Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen turns 33. Three Romanian sides are kicking off the chase to reach the final at the National Arena in Bucharest on 9 May 2012.
Atlético can feel positive as they look ahead to a fifth match against Celtic; the 2009/10 UEFA Europa League winners twice eliminated the Hoops from European competition, in an incident-packed 1973/74 European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-final and the first round of the 1985/86 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. Bhoys boss Neil Lennon also lost twice to Atlético in a 1997/98 UEFA Cup tie while playing for Leicester City FC.
England are the best represented of the 24 nations with an interest in this season's group stage with four entrants; Belgium, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Romania, Austria and Israel are all fielding three sides each. The highest-ranked nation with no clubs in the tournament is the 19th-placed Czech Republic; 35th-placed Slovenia are the lowest-ranked nation with a group stage entrant.
The Irish Rovers
Shamrock Rovers created the sensation of the play-offs by eliminating FK Partizan to become the first Irish side to feature in the group stage of a UEFA club competition. The semi-professional Dublin club's first challenge is to fend off two-time Russian champions FC Rubin Kazan, who played in the last two editions of the UEFA Champions League, most notably beating FC Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Happy birthday, Eidur
As RSC Anderlecht meet AEK Athens for a second successive season in the group stage, the Greek side's Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen will look to mark his 33rd birthday in style; the former Chelsea FC and Barcelona forward is yet to score in Europe for the club he joined from AS Monaco FC this summer and has yet to play a UEFA game on his birthday either.
One to watch
Fulham FC coach Martin Jol will be feeling that Proustian rush as his side take on FC Twente, who he represented as a player from 1979-82. The only side to have made it all the way from the first qualifying round to the group stage this season, the Cottagers signed Twente's Bryan Ruiz on transfer deadline day, but the winger is ineligible to play in the group stage.
FK Austria Wien's Dutch attacker Nacer Barazite was the top scorer in UEFA Europa League qualifying this season with eight goals in six appearances. The former Arsenal FC trainee will look to add to that tally as his side take on FC Metalist Kharkiv.
Did you know?
Wisła Kraków's game against Odense BK threw up this useful fact; Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki was born in Odense when her Polish father, Piotr, was playing for local side Boldklubben 1909. He previously played in Poland for Miedź Legnica and Zagłębie Lubin.
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