Group A kicks off with two domestic cup winners meeting, AEK Larnaca of Cyprus taking on Swiss counterparts Zürich.
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Cypriot Cup winners AEK Larnaca came through three qualifying rounds to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage for the second time, whereas their Swiss opponents FC Zürich, who also lifted the domestic cup last season, arrive in Nicosia for their first European encounter of the 2018/19 campaign.
• The sides have never met although Pezoporikos, one of the two clubs that merged to form AEK in 1994, took on Zürich in the 1992/93 UEFA Cup first round, going down 3-2 on aggregate after a first-leg 2-2 draw in Larnaca. In their current guise, AEK have yet to face a Swiss club in European competition.
• Perhaps ominously for the Swiss side, Zürich's sole defeat in six matches against Cypriot opposition came in the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League group stage – a 3-2 loss at Apollon Limassol, also on matchday one, also in Group A, and also at the GSP Stadium. They won the return 3-1.
• AEK qualified for this season's UEFA Europa League by winning the Cypriot Cup for the second time – and first in 14 years – after coming from behind to defeat Apollon 2-1 in the final. They are in Europe for the fourth successive season and in the UEFA Europa League group stage for the second time, having lost successive play-offs to Czech opposition in the last two campaigns.
• AEK won one, drew one and lost one of their three home games in the 2011/12 group stage, the 0-5 defeat to Schalke the club's heaviest in European competition. They finished bottom of a section also comprising Steaua Bucureşti and Maccabi Haifa, registering five points.
• The Larnaca-based club are unbeaten in seven European fixtures (W4 D3), conceding just one goal during that run. They have not conceded in any of their last seven at home, scoring 20 goals themselves including 12 this term – 4-0 v Dundalk (aggregate 4-0), 5-0 v Sturm Graz (7-0) and 3-0 v Trenčín (4-1).
• Zürich ensured a return to Europe after a year's absence by winning the Swiss Cup for the third time in five years – and tenth time in all – as they denied champions Young Boys the double with a 2-1 win in the Berne final.
• FCZ are in the UEFA Europa League group stage for the fourth time and have yet to progress to the knockout phase. They did, however, reach the round of 32 on their sole UEFA Cup group stage participation, in 2007/08.
• The Swiss club are without a win in seven European away fixtures (D2 L5) since overcoming Spartak Trnava 3-1 in the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League play-offs. That is Zürich's only win in their last 16 European away games (D4 L11) and they have yet to claim a victory on their travels in nine UEFA Europa League group stage encounters.
Links and trivia
• Zürich defender Alain Nef scored on his international debut for Switzerland in a Geneva friendly against Cyprus in August 2008. His current coach Ludovic Magnin appeared alongside him, while AEK assistant coach Elias Charalambous played for the opposition.
• A former Spanish international full-back who spent the vast majority of his career in Bilbao at Athletic Club, Andoni Iraola did not finish playing until November 2016, after 18 months of MLS football with New York City, and had no major coaching experience when he was announced as AEK's new manager in June 2018 in succession to compatriot Imanol Idiakez. He was a stalwart of the Athletic side that finished runners-up to Atlético Madrid in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League, and appeared in three Copa del Rey finals.
• A Swiss international left-back from 2000 to 2010 who won 62 caps for his country and appeared at four successive major tournaments, Ludovic Magnin spent most of that time in Germany with Werder Bremen and Stuttgart, winning the Bundesliga with both, before ending his career back in his homeland with Zürich. It was with FCZ's youth teams that he made his first steps as a coach before graduating to the top job in February 2018 and steering the club to Swiss Cup glory three months later.