Former European champions rub shoulders with complete novices tonight when the UEFA Cup first round opens.
Former European champions rub shoulders with complete novices tonight when 78 clubs kick off the UEFA Cup first round - with a place in the inaugural group stage in their sights.
The winners of the 40 ties - one remaining first-leg encounter is scheduled for next Wednesday - will be guaranteed four more games in the competition should they progress to a group stage which will comprise eight pools of five teams.
Sporting Clube de Portugal's Estádio José Alvalade will stage the eventual final on 18 May 2005, and the home club begin their campaign there against SK Rapid Wien. Rapid eliminated Sporting in the 1995/96 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup quarter-finals - despite losing the first leg 2-0 in Lisbon.
Rapid's in-form city rivals FK Austria Wien are at home to Legia Warszawa, meanwhile. Austria include Polish duo Krystztof Ratajczyk and Radoslaw Gilewitz, and the latter confidently declared: "We are the favourites."
One of four sides in action to have lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup, FK Crvena Zvezda, face a tough trip to FC Zenit St. Peterburg. Zenit lead the Russian Premier League with eight games to go, so - despite the absences of Milan Vjestica and Vladimir Bystrov - Crvena Zvezda will need to be on top form.
The Serbo-Montenegrin title-holders, whose UEFA Champions League hopes were ended in the third qualifying round by PSV Eindhoven, welcome back Nenad Kovacevic two years after he collapsed during a match with FK Buducnost Banatski Dvor and was diagnosed with heart problems. Marjan Markovic also returns, but Milan Bisevac is suspended.
In stark contrast, Millwall FC from England's second tier are in Europe for the first time, having reached last season's FA Cup final, where they lost to Manchester United FC. They face Hungarian champions Ferencvárosi TC, but may have to do so without striker Barry Hayles, who has cracked ribs. For their part, Ferencváros are without suspended winger Szabolcs Huszti but hope defender Gábor Gyepes is over his calf injury.
Another English club making their European bow are League Cup winners Middlesbrough FC, who meet Czech champions FC Baník Ostrava. Middlesbrough are without Spanish midfield player Gaizka Mendieta and defender Ugo Ehiogu, while Baník are at full strength, including Martin Lukes, who on Saturday scored the winner against FK Chmel Blsany following his return to the club after a spell with SK Slavia Praha.
Russian Cup holders FC Terek Gronzy, like Millwall, play outside their domestic top flight and are making their UEFA Cup debut. They came through the second qualifying round and now welcome Swiss side FC Basel 1893 in a tie moved to Moscow for security reasons.
In Istanbul, Trabzonspor hope to maintain the form which has brought five successive Turkish Superleague victories when Athletic Club Bilbao visit. Trabzonspor coach Ziya Dogan has a fully-fit squad but warned: "We have to win the match by at least two clear goals." Athletic's main doubt is central defender Luis Prieto, who hurt his knee in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Valencia CF.
In contrast to elsewhere, Greece's season has yet to begin so Panionios NFC must hit the ground running at home to Italy's Udinese Calcio in Nea Smyrni. The Serie A club have only one absentee, veteran Argentinian defender Nestor Sensini.
uefa.com has live minute-by-minute coverage from 16.00CET of the games in Moscow, St Petersburg, Trabzon, Nea Smyrni, Vienna, London, Middlesbrough and Lisbon, plus results and reports from across Europe throughout the evening.