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Contenders train sights on Dublin final

The race to Dublin and the 2011 UEFA Europa League title will step up when the competition resumes in February and given the drama of the group stage, it could be a rollercoaster ride.

Dublin Arena, venue for the 2011 UEFA Europa League final
Dublin Arena, venue for the 2011 UEFA Europa League final ©Sportsfile

The new year brings fresh challenges for the 32 remaining UEFA Europa League hopefuls, as the race for May's final and ultimately a place alongside deposed holders Club Atlético de Madrid on the trophy steps up. Given the drama of the group stage, it could be a rollercoaster ride.

The 144 group stage games brought thrills and spills, with Atlético and Italian giants Juventus among the high-profile casualties, and 1986 European champions FC Steaua Bucureşti sunk by SSC Napoli's penchant for late goals. Other established names, like Liverpool FC, FC Porto and PSV Eindhoven, did advance though nobody's progress was as serene 2008 UEFA Cup victors FC Zenit St Petersburg, the only side to advance with a 100% record.

Nine games now separate the Russian side and the title, starting with a meeting with BSC Young Boys. December's round of 32 draw also paired RSC Anderlecht and AFC Ajax, one of eight teams to transfer from the UEFA Champions League, and set up an all-Iberian affair between Sevilla FC and runaway Portuguese Liga leaders Porto. Liverpool take on AC Sparta Praha, with manager Roy Hodgson bidding to go one better than last season when he guided unfancied Fulham FC to the runners-up spot.

The final
The target for all 32 remaining teams is, of course, a trip to the final at the Dublin Arena on Wednesday 18 May. Ticket sales have already begun for applicants living in the Republic of Ireland and final ambassador Ronnie Whelan, the former Liverpool midfielder, promises "everyone will be blown away by the warm welcome".

Get involved
February seems a long way away but it gives you all a chance to take stock and prepare your team for Fantasy Football. There are prizes for each matchday, and the overall winner will drive away with a fantastic SEAT vehicle. Users can also test themselves in Predictor, guessing the scorelines for each and every one of the remaining 61 games.

Key dates
15, 17, 22, 24/02 – round of 32
10, 17/03 – round of 16
18/03 – draw for quarter-finals, semi-finals and final
07, 14/04 – quarter-finals
28/04, 05/05 – semi-finals
18/05/11 – final

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