Heavyweights meet in group stage opener

A meeting between former European champions FK Crvena Zvezda and FC Bayern München is one of the highlights as the UEFA Cup group stage gets under way on Thursday.

A meeting between former European champions FK Crvena Zvezda and FC Bayern München is one of the highlights as the UEFA Cup group stage gets under way on Thursday.

Bayern in Belgrade
Ottmar Hitzfeld's Bundesliga leaders will be looking to continue their impressive start to the season when they travel to Belgrade, with in-form striker Miroslav Klose declaring: "If we go into every game fully focused then we'll progress no matter what." Bolton Wanderers FC host SC Braga in the other Group F game. Larissa FC will attempt to claim the scalp of another English Premier League side at Everton FC, having overcome Blackburn Rovers FC in the first round, while the other Group A meeting sees Dutch coach Dick Advocaat welcoming AZ Alkmaar to face his FC Zenit St. Petersburg side.

Group stage regulars
AZ coach Louis van Gaal said: "Seeing the participating clubs, you can see that the quality of the UEFA Cup really has increased. It is a tough draw - more difficult than in previous years for us." The Dutch club have played in every group stage since its inaugural edition in the 2004/05 season so are well-placed to analyse the draw. Another Russian outfit, FC Lokomotiv Moskva, welcome Club Atlético de Madrid in an attractive-looking Group B tie, while group stage debutants Aberdeen FC journey to Panathinaikos FC.

Familiar foes
The pick of the remaining matches see Villarreal CF entertain ACF Fiorentina in Group C while in Group H two sides who were paired in the UEFA Champions League group stage last season, FC Girondins de Bordeaux and Galatasaray SK, meet again. Bordeaux took four points from their two encounters last term so the Turkish side will be out for revenge in France. Elsewhere, 1984 UEFA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur FC tackle Getafe CF and RSC Anderlecht, who lifted the trophy the year before, host Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC in Group G.