Beşiktaş faces first Greek match-up, Trabzon to play in safe zone
AA PhotoAs the Europa League starts its 48-team group phase on Sept. 18, Turkey’s Beşiktaş is preparing to host Asteras Tripoli, a first ever Greek match-up for the Istanbul side.
Trabzonspor, meanwhile, is set to face Metalist Kharkiv, but not in the turmoil-hit city of Kharkiv. The Black Sea team will face off against its Ukraine opponents in Lviv, in the country’s safe western side, due to an UEFA security decision.
This is the first match-day of the round-robin phase, with the top two from each of the 12 groups of four qualifying for the knock-out phase, where they will be joined by the third-placed teams from the group phase of the Champions League.
Beşiktaş was set to play against Olympiacos in the 1958-1959 season, but the latter did not show up due to a political row between the two countries at the time.
Beşiktaş has been undefeated in Istanbul for three matches in a row, despite the fact that it is playing at the Olimpiyat Stadium on the outskirts of the city after its iconic İnönü was demolished to be replaced by a modern stadium. However, Monday’s draw against underdogs Çaykur Rize in the second week into the local league has shaved the Eagles’ confidence.
Beşiktaş was eliminated from the Champion’s League preliminaries after a narrow two-leg defeat at the hands of London giants Arsenal.
Elsewhere, Greek giants Panathinaikos face Russian big shots Dinamo Moscow, Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach take on Spain’s Villarreal, and Napoli host Sparta Prague.
Celtic is scheduled to face a tough trip to Salzburg, on the day of Scotland’s independence referendum, while Everton host Wolfsburg and Tottenham go to Partizan Belgrade.
The pick of the round, however, sees holders Sevilla host Dutch outfit Feyenoord in Group G with the pair boasting five titles between them in the competition. Feyenoord beat Tottenham 4-2 in 1974 before their classic 3-2 win, at their home stadium, over Borussia Dortmund in 2002. The Spaniards, specialists in the competition, beat Middlesbrough 4-0 in 2006, edged Espanyol on penalties the following season and also won on penalties against Benfica last year, thus emerging champions three times in the last decade.
In Group C, Tottenham will put their stadium delay worries out of mind as Mauricio Pochettino takes his side to Belgrade. A late own-goal denied Spurs a win at Sunderland over the weekend, and Pochettino has called for a killer instinct against Partizan Belgrade.
Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen in a free, attacking midfield role has been in brilliant form for Tottenham, who Sunderland boss Gus Poyet described as the best side they have played this season.
Everton face Germany’s Wolfsburg, who are as yet winless in the Bundesliga, and can count on new signing, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o, coming back from injury for the game.
U.S. World Cup hero Tim Howard has sounded the battle cry for the Toffees, telling the club’s website, “The fact that the winners get a Champions League spot is a small incentive for me. Lifting that cup would be brilliant.”
Russian league club FC Krasnodar suffered an unexpected 2-0 home defeat on Sunday at the hands of newly-promoted Ufa ahead of their Europa League encounter with French side Lille.
Azerbaijan champions Qarabag had a morale-boosting 3-0 win over AZAL Baku over the weekend but manager Gurban Gurbanov acknowledged that meeting Saint-Etienne in Group F would be another story. In the other match in the same pool, Inter Milan face Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
The final will take place in the Warsaw national stadium on May 27, 2015. Poland’s representative in the competition is Legia Warsaw, which takes on Belgian newcomers Lokeren in Group L.