UEFA Cup takes centre stage

The UEFA Cup resumes in earnest this evening with Italian clubs looking to impress and PSV Eindhoven hoping history will repeat itself.

Leeds United AFC will have both history and current form against them on Thursday as they contest one of two UEFA Cup fourth round first-leg matches between Dutch and British opposition.

Contrasting fortunes
Leeds, UEFA Champions League semi-finalists last season and England's last remaining representatives in the competition, have slipped from the FA Premiership summit to sixth and are without a win in five games. PSV Eindhoven, by contrast, will be buoyed by a superb 4-0 victory over NEC Nijmegen at the weekend, a result that lifted them to third in the Eredivisie, three points behind leaders AFC Ajax.

Hofland struggling
That impressive display should leave PSV confident of a successful follow-up to their 8-3 aggregate victory over Leeds in the UEFA Cup in 1995. The Dutch side have been hit by injuries to goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus (elbow) and Jan Heintze (knee), although defender Kevin Hofland will return after concussion.

First time in nine years
The prize for victory over the two legs is a quarter-final against either Feyenoord or Rangers FC, who play their first leg in Glasgow. Rangers are involved in post-Christmas European action for the first time in nine years after eliminating Paris Saint-Germain FC on penalties in round three after two goalless draws.

League leadership lost
Rangers, unbeaten in two months since Alex McLeish replaced Dick Advocaat as manager, could be without Ronald de Boer, who is nursing a foot injury, while striker Shota Arveladze is ineligible. Feyenoord's 2-1 weekend defeat by SBV Vitesse saw them lose the Dutch league leadership and their cause has not been helped by the absence of defender Ferry de Haan with a groin strain.

Italian success
Roda JC, the third Dutch side in the competition, went down 1-0 at home to Milan AC in one of two matches brought forward to Tuesday. The Rossoneri's city rivals, Internazionale FC, three-time UEFA Cup winners in the 1990s, and Parma AC, who won the competition in 1995 and 1999, will both look for similarly positive results in their matches on Thursday.

Valencia victory
Ronaldo will again be missing for Inter against AEK Athens, the Greek league leaders, and former Olympiakos Piraeus FC defender Grigorios Georgatos will hope to feature against his fellow countrymen. The winners of the tie look set to face Valencia CF, Spain's only representative in the competition, after they beat Servette FC of Switzerland 3-0 at their Mestalla stadium on Tuesday.

Sell-out crowd
Parma are bracing themselves for a stern test against Hapoel Tel-Aviv, the first Israeli side to reach the fourth round of a major European competition. Tel-Aviv are at full strength and expect a sell-out crowd in excess of 17,000 at their Bloomfield stadium. The winners of that tie will tackle Milan or Roda in the last eight.

'We can with the UEFA Cup'
The two French sides in the competition, Olympique Lyonnais and Lille OSC, will meet in the quarter-finals if they advance from the last 16. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, boosted by a 3-0 win over PSG on Sunday, is confident his team, who take on FC Slovan Liberec of the Czech Republic, can lift the UEFA Cup. "If I had to chose, I'd rather win the UEFA Cup than the French league," he said. "Let's face it, this year we can win the UEFA Cup."

German leaders
Lyon's recent home form has been impressive - four wins and 14 goals scored - but they could be without Eric Carrière because of a foot injury. LOSC, meanwhile, registered their first victory of 2002 at FC Nantes Atlantique last Saturday but are likely to face a far tougher examination against 1. Bundesliga leaders BV Borussia Dortmund, even though they are at home on Thursday. All second-leg matches will be played next week.