By David Hein
OK, we all know that the UEFA Cup is not the same level as the Champions League.
In fact, the UEFA Cup doesn't even gain its top draws until the first round of the Champions League ends and the third-placed teams move onto the UEFA Cup.
But ... the first round of the UEFA Cup does feature defending champion Sevilla as well as seven other teams who have won Europe's second most-prized club crown.
The competition has been altered and now has 80 teams playing two-leg encounters with 40 teams advancing to the group stage -- eight groups of five teams. Each team will play two matches at home and two away.
The top three in each group then move onto the knockout Round of 32 stage -- along with the eight third placed teams from the Champions League first round.
Sound complicated? It's really not that bad.
But let's move onto the games.
Sevilla will be without Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano and Enzo Maresca when it opens defense of its title against Greek side Atromitos. The Spaniards are -250 favorites on WagerWeb.com despite playing the first game in Athens.
Two-time champion Feyenoord (1974, 2002) will also be without a key player in its first leg at Lokomotiv Sofia as central defender Ron Vlaar is out with a foot injury. The Dutch still have +120 outright odds to claim an away victory.
Another Dutch side, the 1992 title-holder Ajax Amsterdam is heavily favored
(-169 on WagerWeb.com) to snatch the first leg away against Norwegians IK Start.
Tottenham Hotspur -- champion in 1972 and 1984 - will not have the services of 19-year-old winger Aaron Lennon as it travels to Prague to face Slavia.
There are three other British sides in action as West Ham welcomes Palermo while Blackburn travels to Salzburg for an extremely tough test, and Newcastle is -250 favorite to take the away leg against Levadia Tallinn.
Three of the four German clubs in the first round are former champions -- and all four are odds-on favorites.
Eintracht Frankfurt -- winners in 1980 -- has been listed as -175 favorite at home against Brondby. But the Germans finished 14th in the Bundesliga last season and only reached the UEFA Cup because they reached the final of the German Cup.
The 1997 champion, Schalke 04, which faces French outfit Nancy at home, has come out of the gates strong, beating Werder Bremen to stay tied for first place in the Bundesliga and then thrashing fourth-division Hansa Rostock II 9-1.
Bayer Leverkusen -- 1988 UEFA Cup winner -- will be without captain Carsten Ramelow when it heads to Switzerland to face FC Sion.
Hertha Berlin is at home against Danish side Odense Bk.
The final former champion in the first round field is 1995 and 1999 winner Parma, which faces Russian side Rubin Kazan but is actually an underdog away.
Some more highlights among the other showdowns: Fenerbahce is a -600 favorite on WagerWeb.com at home against Randers; Israeli club Maccabi Haifa will be playing its home leg against Liteks Lovetch in Nijmegen, Holland; and Turkish club Trabzonspor will be hosting Osasuna in front of empty grandstands after crowd incidents during the second qualifying round.
Last edited by Meerkat : 09-18-2006 at 03:29 PM.
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