The inaugural UEFA Cup group stage gets under way on Thursday, with 16 matches across eight groups. uefa.com rounds up the latest news from the teams in Groups E-H.
Two teams in fine form domestically meet at the Stavros Mavrothalassitis as Egaleo FC, unbeaten in Greece, take on Middlesbrough FC, fresh from a 4-0 victory at Blackburn Rovers FC on Saturday. Egaleo made it two draws and two wins from four matches by drawing 0-0 at the champions Panathinaikos FC. Coach Stefan Demol fielded a full-strength side and was almost rewarded with maximum points only for Daniel Edusei's 77th-minute drive to hit the crossbar. Particular praise went to Ioannis Skopelitis for his man-marking job on Panthinaikos playmaker Ezequiel González. He may have to do the same against Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on Thursday after the striker scored three of Boro's goals at Ewood Park. Another Dutchman, George Boateng, hit the other. Full-back Frank Queudrue is suspended for the Group E opener, while Ugo Ehiogu (calf) and striker Malcolm Christie (broken leg) are not yet fit. Right-back Michael Reiziger will be back next month after his shoulder injury.
The top seeds in the UEFA Cup, S.S. Lazio play last season's semi-finalists Villarreal CF. The Biancocelesti have not enjoyed much fortune at home this season, and lost again on Sunday, Matteo Brighi scoring the only goal for ten-man AC Chievo Verona to leave Lazio eleventh in Serie A. Fernando Couto limped off with a suspected muscle injury on the hour and is a doubt for Thursday. Definitely missing is goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, Matteo Sereni will replace the veteran shot-stopper. It was a tale of two strikers for Villarreal this weekend. Brazilian Sonny Anderson was sold to Al Rayyan of Qatar, while Uruguay's Diego Forlán scored in the 1-1 draw at RCD Mallorca. Unfortunately for coach Manuel Pellegrini, the latter will not be available for Thursday either as he is ineligible. Another worry for Pellegrini is his team's league form, which has yielded one win from seven games. Hopes of an improvement could be hindered by the absences of defender Rodolfo Arruabarrena (hamstring), winger Javier Calleja (knee) and striker Antonio Guayre (leg).
FK Partizan remain at the summit of the Serbo-Montenegrin top flight despite only drawing 0-0 with FK Crvena Zvezda in the 123rd Belgrade derby. Captain Saša Ilic did not play as he was serving a domestic suspension, although Dragan Ciric did return, playing for 63 minutes. Milivoje Cirkovic continues to nurse a knee injury, however.
KS Amica Wronki's decent start to the Polish season continued on Saturday as they defeated Wisla Plock 2-1. Two of the club's more experienced players, forwards Jacek Dembinski and Pawel Kryszalowicz, scored after swift counterattacks to boost confidence ahead of the visit of Rangers FC. Marcin Kikut recovered from injury to play, although substitutes Marcin Burkhardt and Karol Gregorek both suffered slight injuries following their introduction and will undergo treatment in an attempt to be fit for their Group F opener. The same applies to Rangers forward Dado Pršo who strained his thigh after scoring both goals in Sunday's 2-0 defeat of Motherwell FC. Zurab Khizanishvili and Marvin Andrews came in for Maurice Ross and the injured Craig Moore in defence, while Danish winger Peter Løvenkrands was left out of the squad for personal reasons, said manager Alex McLeish. Ross should be available on Thursday, but Paolo Vanoli will almost certainly miss out with a knee problem while Alex Rae remains suspended.
Fourth in Austria meet third in France as Grazer AK entertain AJ Auxerre. Both sides enter the group stage on the back of weekend victories, although GAK were fortunate to see off SV Austria Salzburg 1-0 and remain five points adrift of leaders FK Austria Wien. The visitors missed a penalty and wasted two gilt-edged chances late on. The absence of Austrian international duo René Aufhauser and Anton Ehmann, the captain, weakened GAK, as did the 25th-minute ligament injury to 17-year-old Daniel Pirker which ended his involvement. Auxerre's triumph was more comfortable, 3-0 over RC Lens. Goals from Stéphane Grichting, Benjani Mwaruwari and Philippe Violeau settled the fixture in the favour of Guy Roux's side, for whom youngsters Younes Kaboul and Bakari Sagna impressed in defence. Playmaker Yann Lachuer missed out with flu but hopes to shake it off by Thursday, while goalkeeper Sébastien Hamel (ankle) will sit out most of the group stage.
AZ Alkmaar are the team to miss out on the opening night, giving Juha Reini, Olaf Lindenbergh and Tom Zoontjes further time to recover from injury. The Dutch side won 3-1 at De Graafschap on Friday courtesy of goals from Denny Landzaat, Stein Huysegems and substitute Robin Nelisse to remain fifth.
KSK Beveren coach Herman Helleputte hopes the Belgian club's Ivory Coast contingent will play a significant part in Thursday's opener against VfB Stuttgart, the unbeaten Bundesliga leaders. "It's true that Stuttgart may have one of the best teams in Europe at the moment, but we will field the best Africa has to offer against them," he said. Goalkeeper Boubacar Barry should return to the starting XI after suspension ruled him out of the domestic 2-1 loss to R. Charleroi SC on Sunday. Abdoulaye Djire and Mondakan Mahan are suspended, and Anouar Bou-Sfia and Constant Kipre injured. Stuttgart are blazing a trail in Germany, Saturday's 2-0 defeat of BV Borussia Dortmund moving them on to 20 points from eight games. Andreas Hinkel scored his first-ever goal and Cacau wrapped up a match in which Kevin Kuranyi returned from a calf injury. Boris Zivkovic, Fernando Meira and Marco Streller are out of contention, though.
SL Benfica will be striving to get back to winning ways at the Estádio da Luz on Thursday after losing 1-0 to FC Porto in Lisbon on Sunday night. Nuno Gomes was sent off after being selected by Giovanni Trapattoni ahead of Tomislav Šokota, while Azar Karadas was introduced for João Pereira after 22 minutes with the Eagles 1-0 down. Benfica remain top despite that first SuperLiga defeat of the season and injuries to Eduardo Alcides, Mantorras and Carlitos, all of whom are unavailable against SC Heerenveen. The Dutch side are buoyed by a tremendous weekend win at AFC Ajax, their first in Amsterdam. Trailing 1-0, Heerenveen struck back through Ugur Yilderim, Mika Väyrynen and Stefan Selakovic. All the more impressive was that they did it without injured goalkeeper Boy Waterman and defender Said Bakkati. Youssouf Hersi is suspended.
NK Dinamo Zagreb, Croatia's sole remaining European contenders, will get a chance to see how their rivals fare as they sit out the opening matchday. It is a period of transition for the club as executive vice-president Zdravko Mamic resigned on Saturday after the 2-1 home defeat by NK Slaven Belupo.
UEFA Intertoto Cup winners LOSC Lille Métropole make the trip to Germany to face TSV Alemannia Aachen having just lost pole position in the French Ligue 1 while conceding their first goal at home since the beginning of the season. Nevertheless, Lille still managed to beat SC Bastia 2-1 - their sixth consecutive victory - thanks to a late winner from Geoffrey Dernis. Defender Milivoje Vitakic and midfielder Milenko Acimovic were rested after their international exertions and striker Johan Audel might be doubtful for the tie after leaving the pitch after the break. Aachen, one of three clubs to have reached the group stage in their debut season in UEFA club competition, have no injury worries and will be boosted by a 4-0 win at Eintracht Trier in the 2. Bundesliga. Florian Bruns put last season's German Cup runners-up in charge with Alexander Klitzpera and Simon Rolfes also on the scoresheet. An own goal completed the scoring.
AEK Athens FC go to Russia to face FC Zenit St Peterburg having just claimed joint-top spot in the Greek league with a spectacular away win over Iraklis FC. AEK came from behind to win with two goals in the final five minutes through Konstantinos Katsouranis (penalty) and Alessandro Soares. Striker Leonidas Kampantais limped off in the first half but is not in doubt for Thursday. Coach Fernando Santos did not rest any of his players in Thessaloniki; his only definite absentee is defender Nikolaos Georgeas. Zenit lost two points in dramatic fashion at FC Rubin Kazan that sent them from first to third place in the Russian Premier-Liga. Zenit played without goalkeeper Viacheslav Malafeev, who let in seven goals for Russia in Portugal, with Slovakian Kamil Contofalský taking over. Strikers Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Lukáš Hartig missed out through injury as did defender Milan Vjestica, while Olexandr Spivak was suspended. Igor Denisov scored the Zenit goal.
Sevilla FC were the star men in Spain this weekend, winning 2-1 away to champions Valencia CF. Joaquín Caparrós's team overcame a one-goal deficit with strikes from Julio Baptista, on his return from injury, and Carlos Aranda. The Andalusian side are not in action on Matchday 1, which means Portuguese forward Aziza Makukula could yet figure when they open their campaign at home to Germany's TSV Alemannia Aachen on 4 November. Makukula is back in training after damaging cartilage in his right knee.
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