Brugge look a good bet

Group C focus: Club Brugge KV merit their favourites' tag but FC Utrecht also look strong contenders. assesses the form of the sides in UEFA Cup Group C ahead of the opening matches on 21 October.


Trond Sollied's side may have missed out on the UEFA Champions League group stage after defeat in the third qualifying round by FC Shakhtar Donestk, but little else has gone wrong this season for Club Brugge KV.

Six wins and two draws from their opening eight Belgian first division games have left Brugge two points clear of last season's champions RSC Anderlecht. Indeed, until conceding 15 minutes into the 1-1 draw with KRC Genk on 3 October, Brugge had yet to concede a goal or a point at home in the league. Meanwhile, in the UEFA Cup first round, they beat French side LB Châteauroux 6-1 on aggregate.

A key player this season has been Croatian striker Boško Balaban. He joined the club in January, but missed most of the rest of last season due to torn knee ligaments. He has proved his worth this term, however, by scoring seven league goals. It is not all good news, though. Captain and defensive stalwart Timmy Simons suffered a similar injury in his left knee in the 4-0 home win against Châteauroux on 16 September, and may not be back until early November, with Brugge in action at FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk on 21 October.


After a promising start in the Primera División, Real Zaragoza slipped down to ninth place as a result of their 2-0 defeat by Villarreal CF at the start of October.

Zaragoza - who began the domestic season by winning the Spanish Super Cup against Valencia CF - opened their seventh UEFA Cup campaign by beating SK Sigma Olomouc in both legs of their 4-2 aggregate win. However, they will likely be missing captain Luis Carlos Cuartero until November after he fractured three ribs during a league game against Levante UD and are also without their regular goalkeeper.

Luis García has been deputising for first-choice keeper César Láinez, who underwent an operation to remove a blood clot from his right knee in mid-September - though medical staff are confident that he will be back for the start of the UEFA Cup group stage when FC Utrecht visit on 21 October.


The Dutch Cup holders have had a fine start to the season - and provided plenty of excitement in the first round of this competition. Having overcome Djurgårdens IF 4-0 at home in the first leg, they conceded a goal within three minutes of the return in Sweden. When Tobias Hysén scored Djurgården's third goal nine minutes from time, there were hearts in mouths but Utrecht held on to squeak through 4-3 on aggregate.

Still, in the Eredivisie, Utrecht have been in convincing form. After losing their first match against NAC Breda, Utrecht held AFC Ajax 1-1 in the Amsterdam ArenA, and then shocked Feyenoord 3-0 in Rotterdam. Then on 3 October, Foeke Booy's side fought back to beat RKC Waalwijk, having trailed 2-0 with 30 minutes to go. Hans van de Haar scored twice in that match to take his season's tally to six goals and the only negative was a thigh injury to winger Dave van den Bergh, who had to withdraw from the Dutch national squad.


Their campaign began with a 3-0 win at FC Artmedia Bratislava in the second qualifying round, the eventual aggregate victory against the Slovakian side coming to 4-1. Despite losing 1-0 at Maccabi Haifa FC in the first leg of their first-round tie, Dnipro won 2-0 in the return, Andriy Rusol's goal 13 minutes from time proving decisive.

They have not been quite so impressive on the domestic front, though. Nine games into the Ukrainian Premier League season, Dnipro lie fifth, 14 points adrift of FC Shakhtar Donestsk and holding a negative goal difference. However, on 4 October they beat FC Tavriya Simferopol 3-1, a game in which Oleh Venhlinskiy became the club's leading all-time goalscorer.


Masterminded by coach Günter Kronsteiner, Austria comfortably saw off Legia Warszawa 4-1 on aggregate in the first round. The coach admitted: "I do not have to do anything at the moment. It works out well by itself. My players have unbelievable self-confidence."