UEFA Cup thoroughbreds reach first big hurdle

The UEFA Cup first round will be played to a finish tonight with AC Milan, AFC Ajax, Galatasaray AŞ and Valencia CF among the sides looking to book places in the draw for the group stage, to be held in Nyon on Tuesday.

The UEFA Cup is the only major trophy that still eludes Milan
The UEFA Cup is the only major trophy that still eludes Milan ©Getty Images

First-leg leads
Milan's quest to lift the only significant European trophy missing from their well-stocked cabinet began with a 3-1 home victory over FC Zürich, but they will have to be careful in the second leg in Switzerland. Ajax should have fewer concerns having won the away leg of their encounter with Serbian club FK Borac 4-1, while a 4-3 triumph at Swiss outfit AC Bellinzona may have eased Galatasaray's nerves.

Sevilla on top
Valencia have made a fine start in the Spanish Liga, and they kicked off their UEFA Cup jaunt with a 1-0 success at CS Marítimo of Portugal. Rivals Sevilla FC also opened the campaign on a confident note, with a 2-0 home victory over Austria's FC Salzburg prompting coach Manuel Jiménez to say: "We are clear candidates to win the UEFA Cup again, simply because we did so in the last two campaigns in which we played."

Kalmar surprise
Feyenoord may have landed the silverware in 2002, but they must attempt to avoid an early exit after losing 1-0 at home to Swedish league leaders Kalmar FF. SK Brann, from neighbouring Norway, also sprang a surprise in beating RC Deportivo La Coruña 2-0, though they remain hopeful rather than expectant. Brann midfielder Erik Huseklepp said: "I'm a little disappointed we didn't win by a clearer margin. A two-goal cushion is good to take to Spain, but we aren't through yet."

Two through already
Hertha BSC Berlin have already eliminated Saint Patrick's Athletic FC, the lowest-ranked team in the round, while 2005 winners PFC CSKA Moskva were the other team to progress on Tuesday after beating NK Slaven Koprivnica home and away.