Forty qualifiers were divided into eight groups of five at today's draw for the inaugural UEFA Cup group stage in Switzerland, with the top seeds S.S. Lazio drawn in a testing pool alongside opposition from Spain, England, Serbia and Montenegro, and Greece.
Lazio, the losing finalists in 1998, will square off in Group E against last season's semi-finalists Villarreal CF and English League Cup winners Middlesbrough FC, who are competing in their first European campaign. Serbian league leaders FK Partizan and Egaleo FC complete the pool. Two former winners of the UEFA Cup, Feyenoord and FC Schalke 04, were the first two teams drawn in Group A, where they were joined by the Swiss league leaders FC Basel 1893, Heart of Midlothian FC and Ferencvárosi TC from Hungary.
Like Feyenoord, SL Benfica have won the European Champion Clubs' Cup previously. The Portuguese club will come up against another in-form side, VfB Stuttgart, who are second in the Bundesliga and unbeaten in seven German games this season, as well as NK Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia, Dutch side SC Heerenveen and KSK Beveren. Group D was equally intriguing, containing Newcastle United FC, Sporting Clube de Portugal, FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, Panionios NFC and FC Dinamo Tbilisi.
Lille on top
French Ligue 1 leaders LOSC Lille Métropole will represent tough opposition for the top seeds AEK Athens FC in Group H. Sevilla FC, third in the Spanish Primera División, are also in the pool along with TSV Alemannia Aachen and the Russian league leaders FC Zenit St. Peterburg.
Parma FC, Besiktas JK, Athletic Club Bilbao, FC Steaua Bucuresti and R. Standard de Liège meet in Group B, while Rangers FC, AJ Auxerre, Grazer AK, KS Amica Wronki and AZ Alkmaar are the five teams in Group F. Group C pits together Club Brugge KV, Real Zaragoza, FC Utrecht, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and FK Austria Wien.
The draw was conducted by Italy legend Giuseppe Bergomi, three times a UEFA Cup winner with FC Internazionale Milano, and UEFA's Jean Fournet-Fayard, and saw the qualifiers divided into five pools of eight teams based on their UEFA coefficient. A computer draw will determine the fixture schedule with factors such as stadium clashes and climatic conditions (it is not possible to play in some northern countries in mid-December) taken into account.
Two home, two away
Each club will play two matches at home and two away on the following dates: 21 October, 4 November, 25 November, 1/2 December, 15/16 December. The winners, runners-up and third-placed clubs from each group advance to the last 32 where they are joined by the eight third-placed clubs from the UEFA Champions League group stage. At this point, the traditional two-match format is used with the exception of the final, to be played at the Estádio José Alvalade on 18 May next year.
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