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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Uefa Cup lowdown
The football season's now in full swing and in a European week, Thursday night means the Uefa Cup.

Uefa Cup

It took two days for the bride to walk down the aisle of European football, but now the Champions League is out of the way it is the turn of the bridesmaid to take centre stage.

The Uefa Cup may not have the quality of the Champions League, but they say variety is the spice of life and Europe's lesser competition has that in spades.

The first round consists of 80 clubs from 30 countries, including six British teams which BBC Sport pays particular attention to below.

Alan Hansen's verdict
The Uefa Cup certainly gives the fans a lift and the priority for all the British clubs at this stage is to get a good run going and build up confidence which would translate into improved league performances.

  • Blackburn Rovers v SV Red Bull Salzburg
    1st leg: Stadion Wals-Siezenheim, 14 September, 1945 BST
    2nd leg: Ewood Park, 28 September, 1945 BST

    Overall odds: Blackburn - 33/1; Salzburg - 100/1

    Blackburn Rovers

    Second bottom after four games was not part of the plan for Blackburn this term, but the Uefa Cup gives them a chance to kick-start their season.

    They have scored just once - step forward Benni McCarthy for his effort in the home match against Everton - and have yet to win a game.

    It is all a far cry from the end of the last campaign when Rovers beat Chelsea to finish fifth and claim a place in Europe for the first time since the 2003/04 season.

    That campaign ended at the first hurdle against Genclerbirligi and their European pedigree is atrocious with only one win in 16 matches and an infamous brawl between Graeme Le Saux and David Batty against Spartak Moscow.

  • Their opponents

    Who are they?: A club of a thousand names who play on an artificial pitch. OK, it is only four names but keep up. SV Austria Salzburg became SV Casino Salzburg (1978) became SV Wustenrot Salzburg (1997) before taking the Red Bull dollar in 2005.

    European record: Since this latest version of the team have only been in existence a season and are considered a brand-new entity there is supposedly nothing to look back on. But if you ignore the nihilistic insistence of club officials and dust down the record books you will find they lost to Inter Milan in the final of the 1994 Uefa Cup.

    How did they get here?: By finishing second in their domestic league. They were the leading scorers but still trailed in four points behind Austria Vienna.

    Ones to watch: Keep your eyes on the bench where Giovanni Trapattoni, one of the game's great managers, will be marshalling his troops from the technical area. And if that's not enough, Lothar Matthaus is his assistant! Of those troops, Alexander Zickler has been banging in the goals while Czech midfielder Karel Pitak and Swiss striker Johan Vonlanthen are also worth keeping an eye on.

    Recent form: Eight games into the Austrian Bundesliga, they top the league, are yet to be beaten, boast a 100% record at home and have conceded just four goals - although they did need a last-minute leveller to salvage a draw at the weekend.

    Did you know?: When the club took on the Red Bull name all trace of the former team colour of violet disappeared off the kit and crest, so disaffected fans set up a new club called SV Austria Salzburg. And Manchester United supporters thought they had it bad.

    They say: "They're a good side with one hell of a management team. Going there first on an artificial pitch is not easy either, but we are not going to overplay that issue."
    Mark Hughes, Blackburn manager

  • Heart of Midlothian v Sparta Prague
    1st leg: Murrayfield, 14 September, 1945 BST
    2nd leg: Toyota Arena, 28 September, 2000 BST

    Overall odds: Hearts - 200/1; Sparta Prague - 150/1

    Heart of Midlothian

    The draw was not kind to Hearts. As well as being paired against a team that will give them a stern test, a fixture clash, with Tottenham also due in the Czech capital, meant the first and second legs were reversed and they finish this tie away from home.

    The Edinburgh side had a crack at the Champions League but came up short, going out to AEK Athens having beaten Bosnia-Herzegovina champions Siroki Brijeg in their first qualifier.

    On the home front they are hot on the tails of the Old Firm, but their disciplinary record is as dubious as some of the statements that come from the mouth of the club's majority shareholder, Lithuanian Vladimir Romanov.

    In 10 matches this season they have had five players sent off and Saulius Mikoliunas, Neil McCann and Julien Brellier are suspended for the trip to Prague.

  • Their opponents

    Who are they?: The Czech Republic's most famous club, although their domination of the nineties is on the wane in the noughties, are under new stewardship with manager Michal Bilek just two weeks into the job after Stanislav Griga was sacked.

    European record: They have been in the Champions League in nine of the last 10 seasons, reaching the quarter-finals on two occasions and the second group stage on another two occasions.

    How did they get here?: Sparta, who took their colours from Arsenal, won the Czech Cup last season.

    Ones to watch: Not quite the vintage of some of their old boys like Petr Cech, Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky and Jambo pair Roman Bednar and Michal Pospisil, but Jaromir Blazek is Cech's deputy in the national team and Swiss striker Mauro Lustrinelli leads the line at the other end of the pitch. The defence includes former Premiership-based duo Tomas Repka and Vaclav Drobny.

    Recent form: They are off the pace at home in the early stages, lying sixth after six games. The problems are in attack where they have scored just five goals, but the defence is standing firm having been breached on only four times.

    Did you know?: Won seven of last 10 Czech league titles and 33 in their history.

    They say: "I'm looking forward to this game so much because when I was young I was a Sparta Prague supporter. So a Czech player with Hearts playing Sparta Prague is crazy, but a nice crazy. My friends in the Czech Republic believe that Hearts will win but I think it is 50-50."
    Roman Bednar, Hearts striker

  • Newcastle United v Levadia Tallinn
    1st leg: Kadriorg Staadion, 14 September, 1555 BST
    2nd leg: St James' Park, 28 September, 1930 BST

    Overall odds: Newcastle - 16/1; Levadia Tallinn - 1500/1

    Newcastle United

    Check out those odds. Roll on the second round. This is a gimme of a tie for Newcastle, isn't it?

    They have been involved in Europe in one form or another every season since 2001. This should set them up for a good run and the chance to eclipse their best showing in that time - a Uefa Cup semi-final against Marseille in 2004.

    However, the Magpies have not won in three games, a run of matches that included a 0-0 second-leg draw in the Uefa Cup qualifying round against FK Ventspils of Latvia.

    Not that impressive on paper, but it was a case of job done after they had won the first leg having come through the Intertoto by beating Norwegian side Lillestrom. More of the same is the order of the day here.

  • Their opponents

    Who are they?: They were formed in only 1999, but in that short time have become a dominant force in Estonia.

    European record: Prior to this their best performance was the qualifying rounds, but in getting this far they have become trailblazers for their country as the first Estonian club to reach the first-round proper.

    How did they get here?: Levadia came second in their domestic league, then beat Finnish side FC Haka and caused a huge shock in seeing off Dutch side FC Twente.

    Ones to watch: Konstantin Nahk was the hero of the day in sealing the victory over Twente, but 17-year-old Russian Nikita Andreev scored a fantastic goal in the first leg and at the other end of the age scale in the striker's union, Indrek Zelinski has more than 100 caps for Estonia.

    Recent form: Levadia are currently runaway leaders in Estonia's Meistriliiga, a massive 12 points clear of second place having won 23 of their 26 games. After winning 15 straight games they lost their last outing on the road at Maag 4-2, but they did rest eight regular first-teamers.

    Did you know?: They are Tallin's 'Russian' team.

    They say: "It cannot get any harder, as Twente dominated us completely. Let's be honest, they were the stronger side in both legs, but in football it is not always the strongest side that wins. You also need defensive resilience and good fortune to go through."
    Tarmo Ruutli, Levadia coach

  • Rangers v Molde
    1st leg: Aker Stadion, 14 September, 1905 BST
    2nd leg: Ibrox, 28 September, 2000 BST

    Overall odds: Rangers - 40/1; Molde - 750/1


    The final is at Hampden in Glasgow and what a fairytale it would be if Rangers could walk out there in May.

    Their first hurdle should be comfortably cleared particularly when you bear in mind they reached the second round of the Champions League last season, going out on the away goals rule to eventual semi-finalists Villarreal.

    Since then the manager has changed with Paul Le Guen replacing Alex McLeish - and so have the vast majority of the personnel.

    Only five of the squad from last season's September draw against Falkirk figured in the 4-0 weekend win over the same opposition, a result that maintained their unbeaten start to the SPL under the Frenchman.

  • Their opponents

    Who are they?: Molde, who are based in the fiordlands on Norway's west coast, have never won their domestic title despite coming close in the last decade, most notably when they finished second three times in five seasons to 2002.

    European record: Reached the second round of the 2003/04 Uefa Cup before going out to Benfica and upset the odds in reaching the group stages of the 1999/00 Champions League, where they beat Olympiacos having already seen off CSKA Moscow and Real Mallorca.

    How did they get here?: They made a mockery of their lowly league position by beating Lillestrom to win the domestic cup. That booked a place in the second qualifying round where they beat Latvia's Skonto Riga.

    Ones to watch: There is a familiar face on the bench as Molde are managed by former Aberdeen striker Arild Stavrum. He oversees a squad that includes international experience in the guise of goalkeeper Jan Kjell Larsen (Norway), defenders Habib Mohamed (Ghana), Matej Mavric (Slovenia) and Toni Kallio (Finland) and midfielders Daniel Berg Hestad (Norway) and former Sheffield Wednesday player Petter Rudi (Norway).

    Recent form: They are really struggling again in the league and are third bottom of the 14-team Norwegian Tippeligaen - a position they owe to victory over bottom-placed Viking FK in their last match.

    Did you know?: Liverpool defender John Arne Riise was born in Molde while Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and former United defender Arthur Albiston used to play for the club.

    They say: "We needed the win at the weekend. Now we are much more confident than we were a few weeks ago. We have players with international experience and they will give Rangers a fight. We will not play defensively at home."
    Arild Stavrum, Molde manager

  • Tottenham Hotspur v Slavia Prague
    1st leg: Stadion Evzena Rosickeho, 14 September, 1900 BST
    2nd leg: White Hart Lane, 28 September, 2000 BST

    Overall odds: Tottenham - 10/1; Slavia Prague - 125/1

    Tottenham Hotspur

    Tottenham beat Anderlecht to lift the Uefa Cup in 1984 and now they are back in Europe for the first time since 1999 are hotly tipped to repeat the feat, let alone better their dismal performance seven years ago when they crashed out before Christmas.

    A strong squad that missed out on Champions League football on the final day of last season, they are second favourites behind defending champions Sevilla to win the competition.

    To do so they will need to turn around their form - and fast.

    Spurs have won just one in four this season, scoring only two goals in their lone win against Sheffield United. Take in the end of last season and they have experienced victory just twice in eight outings.

  • Their opponents

    Who are they?: Don't get your Prague teams confused. This lot are Slavia and the others are Sparta. This lot tend to live in the shadow of the other lot.

    European record: The high point came when they reached the 1996 Uefa Cup semi-finals, losing to Bordeaux. More recently they have qualified for the competition in each of the last five seasons and last year had their best run in that time, making the last 32 where they lost to Palermo.

    How did they get here?: By beating Karvan of Azerbaijan in the second qualifying round having finished third in the Czech league - the Gambrinus Liga - last season.

    Ones to watch: Slavia did not have a single player in the Czech Republic World Cup squad in the summer, but they have three future stars in Martin Latka, Petr Janda and Michal Svec. Dusan Svento and Matej Krajcik are Slovakian internationals.

    Recent form: Stop start. Won three and lost three in domestic action, most recently losing to gift lowly opponents Most a first win of the season and leave themselves in eighth place.

    Did you know?: Eight Slavia players where in the Czechoslovakia team that lost the 1934 World Cup final to Italy.

    They say: "It is going to be a very interesting tie against the club I spent a lot of great years at from my childhood. Spurs are favourites, but we should be careful and we certainly respect the power of Slavia who have experience with European football. I remember that we used to manage to surprise big clubs."
    Radek Cerny, Spurs goalkeeper

  • West Ham United v Palermo
    1st leg: Upton Park, Thursday 14 September, 2000 BST
    2nd leg: Renzo Barbera, Thursday, 28 September, 1945 BST

    Overall odds: West Ham - 20/1; Palermo - 33/1

    West Ham United

    Well, it is all happening down at the Boleyn Ground. Promotion one year, an FA Cup final the next and Europe the season after. What next?

    The arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano suggests anything is possible and the signings of the Argentine duo saw the club's Uefa Cup odds tumble.

    But with neither yet to start a game, the man of the moment is Bobby Zamora who has scored five goals to help the Hammers into the top-half of the Premiership.

    They are unbeaten at Upton Park and if the former Brighton hitman can repeat his run of form home and away there will be a right-old east end knees up in Sicily after the return with Dean Martin's "That's Amore" playing in the background.

  • Their opponents

    Who are they?: Palermo went bankrupt in 1986, but, thanks to the millions of club president Maurizio Zamparini, have slowly and surely re-emerged as a force having won a place back in Serie A in 2004 after a 31-year absence.

    European record: Made the Uefa Cup for the first time last season and reached the last 16 where they lost to German side Schalke 04.

    How did they get here?: The end of season musical chairs as a result of the match fixing scandal saw Palermo climb from eighth to fifth and an automatic Uefa Cup spot. But for AC Milan's successful appeal against their points deduction, Palermo would have been in the Champions League.

    Ones to watch: Brazilian striker Amauri scored 11 goals for fourth-placed Chievo last season before moving to the Rosanero to join Italian international defenders Cristian Zaacardo and Andrea Barzagli. But fellow World Cup winner Simone Barone moved on in the summer to Torino.

    Recent form: One game played in Serie A so far and it was an absolute belter. They got the better of Reggina by the odd goal in seven in a match that also featured 10 bookings and a sending off.

    Did you know?: Zaccardo scored the only goal Italy conceded from open play in the World Cup. He turned the ball into his own net in the draw against the USA.

    They say: "This is a new thing for us but we have a lot of confidence. If we play well we go into the group stage and build ourselves for the next few years. It will be a hard game, they are a strong side, but I believe in my team and we can reach the group stage and do even more than that."
    Yossi Benayoun, West Ham midfielder



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