The 80 sides competing in the UEFA Cup first round boast 17 European Champion Clubs' Cups between them, with the presence of AFC Ajax and AC Milan lending a wealth of class to an already impressive lineup.
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UEFA General Secretary David Taylor said at the draw that the UEFA Cup was not a "second rate or second-tier competition", a statement borne out by the fact the teams in action this week have 17 European Cups, eleven UEFA Cups and eleven UEFA Cup Winners' Cups between them. Eight of the participants have claimed the UEFA Cup before: Ajax, PFC CSKA Moskva, Galatasaray AŞ, SSC Napoli, FC Schalke 04, Valencia CF, Feyenoord, Sevilla FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC, with the last three having lifted the trophy twice.
Kicking off their tie against FK Borac in Serbia tonight, Ajax are one of a handful of sides to have landed all three of UEFA's top club competitions – the Champions' Cup, the UEFA Cup and the now-defunct Cup Winners' Cup – though Milan can match that achievement if they triumph in this season's final in Istanbul. Other former European champions in the mix are Aston Villa FC, BV Borussia Dortmund, Feyenoord, Hamburger SV, and two-time winners SL Benfica.
However, as Mr Taylor said, the appeal of the UEFA Cup is not just the chance to see some of Europe's foremost teams in action. "Often you see more open, attractive, flowing football – and you definitely see different teams from different countries," he explained. This term, that means rare appearances at this level for clubs from the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Finland and Lithuania, with FBK Kaunas coming in from the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, having earlier defeated 2007/08 UEFA Cup finalists Rangers FC. Three first legs were played on Tuesday – Hertha BSC Berlin, Schalke and Olympiacos CFP all victorious – with the rest taking place later before the returns on 30 September or 2 October. The winners progress to the group stage.