Europa League winners Atletico
Madrid will face Hapoel Tel Aviv, Viktoria Plzen and Portuguese
newcomers Academica Coimbra in the group stage of this season's
competition following Friday's draw.
"We have never played any of these teams. We could have had
tougher rivals but we have these, and we will fight to be
champions of the group," Atletico president Enrique Cerezo told
Athletic Bilbao, last season's finalists, face Olympique
Lyon, Sparta Prague and Hapoel Kiryat Shmona in another of the
12 groups that comprise the opening stage of UEFA's secondary
European club competition.
Tottenham Hotspur, who finished fourth in the Premier League
last season but were denied a place in the Champions League when
Chelsea won that competition, were grouped with Panathinaikos,
Lazio and Maribor - three sides they have never played before.
Five-times European champions Liverpool face Udinese, who
were eliminated from the Champions League play-offs on Tuesday
and Young Boys as well as the wealthy Russian club Anzhi
Makhachkala, who boast Samuel Eto'o, the world's best-paid
player, in their ranks.
This season's competition, which begins on September 20 and ends
with the final in Amsterdam on May 15 next year has five former
European champions, including Olympique Marseille, who face
tough opposition from Fenerbahce of Turkey, Borussia
Monchengladbach of Germany as well as AEL Limassol of Cyprus.
Marseille coach Elie Baup said: "This is a high-quality
draw. We expect hot and high intensity games.
"Fenerbahce and Monchengladbach have their place in the top
European circle. These opponents fully know what the European
ties demand. Even if it's not the Champions League, this is a
high level European competition."
Inter Milan, European champions in 2010, also face a tough
looking group against the hard-to-beat Russians Rubin Kazan,
Partizan Belgrade and debutants Nefti from Azerbaijan.
Olympique Lyon, while never winning the Champions League,
had qualified for that competition for 13 successive seasons and
club president Jean-Michel Aulas said: "Of course we would
rather be in the other competition but it would be a major
honour to win this title and that is what we are going to try
Lazio bought former England international Paul Gascoigne
from Tottenham in 1992 for 5.5 million pounds
and general manager Maurizio Manzini said he planned to invite
the ex-player to Rome for the match against Spurs.
"Tottenham is a team Lazio knows very well, a great team
with great traditions and we are very familiar with White Hart
Lane starting from the time we had Paul Gascoigne.
"There is always a corner of Tottenham in our hearts. He is
a mythical figure for Lazio fans and very popular in general in
"I hope we will have the chance to see him in London and for
sure we will invite him to the match in Rome.
Draw for 2012/13 Europa League
group stage made in Monaco on Friday:
Hapoel Tel Aviv
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona
Group stage matches begin September 20. The final will be in
Amsterdam on May 15 2013.
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