The quest to reach the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League final begins at 16.00CET today in Tbilisi, Yerevan and Kostanay, the teams 23 games away from lifting the trophy in Dublin on 18 May.
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No-one knows who will win the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League, but we know where it will start and where it will end; at the Dublin Arena, in the Republic of Ireland, on 18 May 2011.
The journey begins several thousand kilometres away, at 16.00CET on Thursday the first three games kick off, one at the Boris Paichadze National Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia, where FC Dinamo Tbilisi and FC Flora from Estonia are matched; one in the Armenian capital's Hrazdan Central stadium, between Ulisses FC and Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC, and the other at the Tcentralny stadium in Kostanay, Kazakhstan, as AFC Tobol Kostanay welcome HŠK Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Should any of those sides go all the way, they would have played 23 UEFA Europa League games by the time the trophy is lifted at the Dublin Arena.
At this early stage there are no shortage of clubs with interesting tales to tell, not least Anorthosis Famagusta FC, who were UEFA Champions League group stage contenders two seasons ago. They will look to show their class as they host Armenia's FC Banants in their opener in Larnaca, which is due to begin four hours after the Tbilisi game.
Some clubs will already have one eye on the second qualifying round, with the draw having been made already, and a number of plum ties on the cards. The winner of Dundalk FC's tie against CS Grevenmacher will earn a game against Bulgarian titans – and one-time UEFA Champions League group stage contenders – PFC Levski Sofia. Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC played in the group stage in 2004/05, and will meet the winners of the tie between UE Santa Coloma of Andorra and Montenegro's FK Mogren.