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Hopes high in Basel and Bucharest

The UEFA Cup second round continues tonight with 23 first-leg matches, including intriguing ties at FC Basel and FC Steaua Bucuresti.

The UEFA Cup second round, which began last Wednesday with a 0-0 draw between Rosenborg BK and FK Crvena Zvezda in Trondheim, continues tonight with a further 23 first-leg ties.

Length and breadth
There are 46 clubs competing tonight from 23 countries across the length and breadth of Europe. France and Spain have the most representatives remaining with four apiece, while England, Croatia and Norway are close behind with three each. (Click here for a full fixtures list.)

International absences
One of the most competitive ties should be the duel between FC Basel and Newcastle United FC. For the first leg in Switzerland, Newcastle, already without Jonathan Woodgate and Craig Bellamy, have also been deprived of the services of midfield player Kieron Dyer and defender Andy Griffin with hamstring injuries while Lee Bowyer is suspended. Defender Nikos Dabizas and striker Michael Chopra have been added to the squad as cover.

Esposito out
Basel have problems of their own, with midfield player Antonio Esposito missing with a thigh injury. Swiss international Benjamin Huggel is also out, having broken two ribs in the second leg of the first-round victory against Malatyaspor.

Owen absence
Liverpool FC, UEFA Cup winners in 2001 and four-times champions of Europe, face a testing tie against FC Steaua Bucuresti, former European champions themselves. For the first leg in Romania, Steaua are without midfield player Sorin Paraschiv and striker Laurentiu Dinita, while Liverpool must do without their record European goalscorer, Michael Owen.

Dede disappointment
BV Borussia Dortmund, UEFA Cup finalists in 2002, have a multitude of worries ahead of their home leg against FC Sochaux-Montbéliard. Dede is the latest player to be ruled out with a long-term injury, joining fellow midfield players Tomáš Rosický, Flavio Conceição and Torsten Frings, striker Marcio Amoroso and defenders Evanilson and Christoph Metzelder on the sidelines.

'Unique game'
Sochaux coach Guy Lacombe remained cautious about the French side's prospects, however: "It will be a unique game in front of an unique opponent and in an unique surroundings. Even with their amount of injuries we are not favourites to win."

Striking setbacks
Elsewhere, Villarreal CF striker Víctor Fernández is struggling to recover from a muscle injury in time to face FC Torpedo Moskva. Forward José Mari Romero is suspended, although Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson should be fit.

Left-sided dilemma
Feyenoord, winners of this competition in 2002, welcome back Kees van Wonderen for the home leg against FK Teplice. However, left-back Ramon van Haaren is out with a knee injury. With left-sided players Gerard de Nooijer and Ferne Snoyl also injured, right-footed Chong-gug Song is set to continue on the left of defence.

Levski absentee
PFC Levski Sofia will be without midfield player Sasha Simonovic for both legs of the tie against SK Slavia Praha. The 28-year-old has suffered cartilage damage in his left knee. However, Bulgarian defender Iliyan Stoyanov should be involved after missing the last four games.

Healthy Hearts
NK Dinamo Zagreb midfield player Ante Tomic is a doubt for the match against FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, conquerors of Hamburger SV. Meanwhile, ahead of their tie against FC Girondins de Bordeaux, Heart of Midlothian FC manager Craig Levein welcomes back defenders Robbie Neilson and Patrick Kisnorbo and striker Mark de Vries. Stephen Simmons and Gary Wales are both sidelined, however.

Goalkeeper problem
Finally, Gençlerbirligi SK have doubts surrounding goalkeeper Gökhan Tokgöz for the home leg against Sporting Clube de Portugal in Turkey.