Maccabi Petah Tikva will face teams from Italy, Spain, Russia and Denmark in Group B of the UEFA Cup. Petah Tikva, which upset Serbian champs Partizan Belgrade 5-4 aggregate in the previous round, became the first Israeli side to take part in the draw for the group stage on Tuesday in Nyon, Switzerland.
Forty teams were divided into eight groups at the draw with their eyes on playing in next year's final on May 10 at Phillips Stadium in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The top three teams in each group advance to the next round. The competition then reverts to a knockout stage and the 24 winners will be joined by the eight thirdplace finishers from the Champions League group phase.
Coach Guy Luzon's side will host surprising Italian side Palermo in its first game on October 20 and Russian power Lokomotiv Moscow on November 30. Petah Tikva will travel to Brondby on November 3 and will wrap up the group in Barcelona on December 15 against Espanyol.
Although the draw won't see any superstars landing at National Stadium in Ramat Gan for the home games, the teams are memorable ones nonetheless. Palermo, which is unique for its pink uniforms, has been one of the most overachieving sides in Italy over the past two seasons. Its top player is Nigerian striker Stephen Makinwa.
Moscow, which lost in its last trip to Israel to Hapoel Tel Aviv four years ago, leads the Russian league. International midfielder Marat Izmailov is Lokomotiv's best known player.
Bronby is coached by legend Michael Laudrup, who together with his brother Brian and former Israel coach Richard Nielsen helped lead Denmark to the 1992 European Championship. The team is as always a proving ground for young local talent.
Espanyol has the biggest names of the four opponents, with dangerous goal-scorer Raul Tamudo and Argentinian midfielder Pablo Javier Zabaleta leading the way.
Defending champion CSKA Moscow will play one of France's five clubs, Olympique Marseille, in the group stage.
While most of Europe's powerhouses are in the more prestigious Champions League, the UEFA Cup appears wide open for another unheralded club to win the title.
But CSKA, which upset Sporting Lisbon 3-1 in the Portuguese club's own Jose Alvalade Stadium in last season's final, is content with its group.
Marseille, which was runner-up two seasons ago, is joined in Group F by Dutch club Heerenveen, Bulgaria's Levski Sofia and Romania's Dinamo Bucharest, which beat Everton 5-1 in a first-leg match last round.
"Russia doesn't win cups every year, so there's a good feeling in the team," said CSKA boss Alexander Stelmakh. "For us the draw is fairly good. I think we can play well against all these teams."
Marseille president Pape Diouf said his team would have been more worried about facing a bigger club from Spain or Italy. "We can't complain or rejoice," Diouf said. "Even if we have a lot of respect for the title holder, it's not the same as a Latin club."
The draw kept teams from the same federations apart, which means that France could have at least five teams in the next round. Three of them have to face German opponents.
AS Monaco, which was Champions League runner-up two seasons ago, is grouped with Hamburg, Slavia Prague, CSKA Sofia and Norway's Viking FK in Group A. "It's an interesting but at the same time very difficult draw. There are some big European names," said Monaco's director of administration, Alain Cloux. "It's a north and east draw, so traveling could be kind of tricky."
In an interesting family feature in that group, Prague, coached by Karel Jarol m with son Luk Jarol m in the midfield, will meet son and brother David Jarol m of Hamburger on December 15.
Lens will face Hertha Berlin, Sampdoria, Steaua Bucharest and Sweden's Halmstads BK in Group C.
Rennes is grouped with VfB Stuttgart, Greek club PAOK, Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine and Rapid Bucharest in Group G. But the story there will be the game between Donetsk and Bucharest. The Romanian side is coached by Razvan Lucescu. His father, Mircea Lucescu, coaches Donetsk. They'll meet on November 24.
Strasbourg meets AS Roma, Basel, Red Star Belgrade and Norway's Tromso in Group E.
Zenit St. Petersburg will face Turkey's Besiktas, Sevilla, Bolton Wanderers and Vitoria Guimaraes of Portugal in Group H.
Bolton and Tal Ben-Haim is playing in European competition for the first time and chairman Phil Gartside said it is a reward for its recent rise.
"There are some tasty ties and some exciting away games," Gartside said. "If we finish in the top half of the [Premier League] table and win a domestic trophy, that'll be the culmination of six or seven years hard work."
Surprise Dutch league leader AZ Alkmaar meets England's Middlesbrough, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of Ukraine, Grasshoppers Zurich and Bulgaria's Litex Lovech in Group D.
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