No team from France has ever lifted the UEFA Cup, yet this could be their year as five Ligue 1 sides go into tonight's Round of 32 ties vying for a place in the Eindhoven final on 10 May. By contrast, the trophy has resided in Italy for nine of the last 29 years, and in AS Roma, the Italians have Europe's in-form team.
The Giallorossi endured a disappointing start to the Serie A campaign, but have bounced back in style in 2006. Sunday's 2-0 victory at AC Siena moved Roma to within one win of equalling the all-time record of ten successive league victories, but for now their attention lies elsewhere. "I've always believed winning the UEFA Cup was a realistic goal, even when we weren't getting good results at the start of the season and everything seemed so difficult," said captain Francesco Totti.
Belgium's Club Brugge KV have the unenviable task of trying to stop Roma at the Jan Breydel Stadion, but will not be cowed as they themselves are unbeaten since November. The hosts are one of eight sides entering the UEFA Cup after UEFA Champions League elimination, with FC Schalke 04 and Rosenborg BK redirecting their European ambitions, and new coaches at FC Thun and Udinese Calcio seeking to make early impressions.
The timing of Thun's decision to sack Urs Schönenberger on Monday surprised many, and Heinz Peischl will make his debut at home to Hamburger SV in one of three games on Thursday. Roberto Néstor Sensini and Loris Dominissini have had longer to settle at Udinese, albeit just one match, and they welcome an RC Lens side that ended UC Sampdoria's UEFA Cup hopes in their last outing in the competition.
Lens are one of a quintet of French contestants, three of whom won their sections in the group stage and now meet third-placed finishers as their reward. AS Monaco FC travel to Switzerland to take on FC Basel 1893, while Ligue 1 strugglers RC Strasbourg visit Bulgaria to play PFC Litex Lovech. Olympique de Marseille have savoured European success before, claiming the inaugural UEFA Champions League title, and they are also away in the first leg, tackling Bolton Wanderers FC in what promises to be one of the ties of the round.
LOSC Lille Métropole complete the French interest following their UEFA Champions League exit. They will need to find their feet quickly in the UEFA Cup as they host Ukrainian champions FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Elsewhere, Middlesbrough FC, fresh from a surprise 3-0 defeat of English Premiership leaders Chelsea FC, go to VfL Stuttgart, while Dutch Eredivisie challengers AZ Alkmaar entertain Real Betis Balompié who are struggling in Spain.
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