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Europa League campaign starts in earnest

Six weeks after FC Porto lifted the trophy, Fulham FC, the 2010 runners-up, are the pick of 50 sides kicking off the new campaign in the first qualifying round on Thursday.

Fifty teams begin their quest to lift the trophy on Thursday
Fifty teams begin their quest to lift the trophy on Thursday ©Sportsfile

Fifty teams will be in UEFA Europa League action on Thursday, when the start of the first qualifying round kicks off the 2011/2012 campaign.

Premier League side Fulham FC began at the third qualifying stage two seasons ago and played 19 matches culminating in their extra-time defeat by Club Atlético de Madrid in the Hamburg final. The Cottagers will need to play four more games this time around if they are to appear in the Bucharest showpiece on 9 May next year. They host NSÍ Runavík of the Faroe Islands on Thursday in new manager Martin Jol's first game in charge.

"It's an interesting draw, that's for sure," said the Dutchman. "We have a busy few days ahead of us, but that's the job we have been given. It's the second time Fulham have been in Europe in three seasons and that is very positive. It's a fantastic achievement for the club and we'll do what we can to get as far as possible. We're certainly looking forward to getting going."

Fulham's fellow Respect Fair Play entrants, Norway's Aalesunds FK and BK Häcken of Sweden, meanwhile, will encounter Neath FC and UN Käerjéng 97 respectively. Ferencvárosi TC, the 1975 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup runners-up, launch their European campaign against Ulisses FC of Armenia.

Representatives from San Marino, Andorra, Luxembourg and Lithuania will also have a chance to shine. Sp Tre Penne, UE Santa Coloma, CS Fola Esch, and FK Banga (one of five European debutants in action) respectively take on Serbia's FK Rad, Hungary's Paksi SE, Swedish side IL Elfsborg and Qarabağ FK from Azerbaijan. The return legs all take place on 7 July.

The draw for the second qualifying round, which takes place on 14 and 21 July, has already been made. Fulham will meet Crusaders FC of Northern Ireland if they negotiate NSÍ, while in Scotland, 1987 UEFA Cup runners-up Dundee United FC have been pitted against Polish outfit WKS Śląsk Wrocław.

First qualifying round matches (30 June and 7 July)
KR Reykjavík (ISL) v ÍF Fuglafjørdur (FRO)
FC Daugava Daugavpils (LVA) v Tromsø IL (NOR)
IL Elfsborg (SWE) v CS Fola Esch (LUX)
The New Saints FC (WAL) v Cliftonville FC (NIR)
FC Honka Espoo (FIN) v JK Nõmme Kalju (EST)
Fulham FC (ENG)* v NSÍ Runavík (FRO)
ÍBV Vestmannaeyjar (ISL) v Saint Patrick's Athletic FC (IRL)
BK Häcken (SWE)* v UN Käerjéng 97 (LUX)
Aalesunds FK (NOR)* v Neath FC (WAL)
FK Renova (MKD) v Glentoran FC (NIR)
FC Koper (SVN) v FC Shakhter Karagandy (KAZ)
FK Banga (LTU) v Qarabağ FK (AZE)
Paksi SE (HUN) v UE Santa Coloma (AND)
FK Rabotnicki (MKD) v JK Trans Narva (EST)
FK Rad (SRB) v SP Tre Penne (SMR)
FK Budućnost Podgorica (MNE) v KS Flamurtari (ALB)
Ulisses FC (ARM) v Ferencvárosi TC (HUN)
Jagiellonia Białystok (POL) v FC Irtysh Pavlodar (KAZ)
FC Minsk (BLR) v Olimpik-Şüvälan PFK (AZE)
FC Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v FC Milsami Orhei (MDA)
NK Varaždin (CRO) v FC Lusitans (AND)
FC Banants (ARM) v Metalurgi Rustavi (GEO)
Birkirkara FC (MLT) v KS Vllaznia (ALB)
NK Široki Brijeg (BIH) v NK Olimpija Ljubljana (SVN)
FC Spartak Trnava (SVK) v FK Zeta (MNE)

*Respect Fair Play entrants

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