Holders Atlético set out with final ambition

Club Atlético de Madrid take a first step down the perilous path they hope will lead to Amsterdam next May when they begin the defence of their UEFA Europa League title on Thursday.

UEFA Europa League holders Atlético won the UEFA Super Cup in style last month
UEFA Europa League holders Atlético won the UEFA Super Cup in style last month ©Getty Images

Club Atlético de Madrid are becoming a familiar feature of the UEFA Europa League final having won the tournament twice in the last three years, and will harbour high hopes of reaching this season's title decider in Amsterdam on 15 May. Following their convincing defeat of Chelsea FC in the UEFA Super Cup, they will also be confident of registering a 14th straight win in European competition in their Group B curtain-raiser at Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC.

While last term's runners-up Athletic Club also begin against Israeli opposition in the shape of debutants Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC in Group I, three-time UEFA Cup winners FC Internazionale Milano face a trickier-looking opening to Group H with FC Rubin Kazan the visitors to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. There is also an intriguing Italo-Russian encounter in Group A where Udinese Calcio host FC Anji Makhachkala, coached by Guus Hiddink and captained by three-time UEFA Champions League winner Samuel Eto'o. Also in Group A, three-time UEFA Cup victors Liverpool FC launch their campaign away to BSC Young Boys aiming to extend their unbeaten streak against Swiss clubs to eight games.

Two former European Champion Clubs' Cup finalists, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach and Olympique de Marseille, start Group C against newcomers AEL Limassol FC and Turkish giants Fenerbahçe SK respectively. In Group G, Paulo Sousa, a UEFA Champions League winner as a player, takes his Hungarian charges Videoton FC to KRC Genk, with heavyweights Sporting Clube de Portugal and FC Basel 1893 going toe-to-toe for the fifth time in recent seasons in Lisbon in the same section.

European champions in 1985/86, FC Steaua Bucureşti head to VfB Stuttgart in Group E with ambitions of beating a German team for the first time in 13 attempts while Ole Gunnar Solskjær's Molde FK make the trip to the Danish capital to play Nordic neighbours FC København. After stunning PFC CSKA Moskva in the play-offs, AIK Solna will test SSC Napoli's proud 14-match unbeaten run in Europe at the Stadio San Paolo in Group F, and S.S. Lazio have their work cut out to end a sequence of seven winless games against English opposition when they travel to Tottenham Hotspur FC in Group J.