Yesterday, the Bundesliga’s five UEFA Cup entrants were handed very tough groups for the upcoming middle stage of the UEFA Cup. While group previews will be prepared later this month, let’s take a look at the draws for Hertha, Schalke, Stuttgart, Wolfsburg and Hamburg.
1. Group A
Schalke was a top seed, despite being throttled by Atletico Madrid in UCL qualifying and drawing with Cypriot minnows APOEL. However, their group is very difficult with the world’s richest club in Manchester City and Paris St. Germain visiting Veltins. On the road they face La Liga’s Racing Sandanter and, of course, Fred Rutten’s old club FC Twente. Twente would be considered the easiest tie were it not for the link to Rutten and Engelaar.
2. Group B
Hertha limped through an easy qualifying opponent in the Republic of Ireland’s St Patrick’s Athletic and face a bevy of southern superclubs: Benfica of Portugal, Olympiakos of Greece and Galatasaray of Turkey. They have away ties with Metalist Kharkiv of the Ukraine (who beat Besiktas to get to the group stage) and Werder’s nemesis from last year Olympiakos. At home, the welcome Benfica and Galatasaray; however, the Turkish champions will effectively represent a neutral match, at best, in the capital.
3. Group C
Stuttgart might have been handed the toughest draw of any of the Bundesliga sides after scraping by Bulgarian outfit Cherno More. They face Partizan Belgrade at home and finish with Belgian side Standard Liege. Liege, the scourge of Merseyside, were seconds from knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League, and beat Everton to get to the group stages. They visit two time Champions Seville and a strong Sampdoria side as well.
4. Group E
Wolfsburg dismissed Rapid Bucharest to make the group stages. Their reward is a trip to the San Siro to face some no-names by the name of A.C. Milan. Otherwise they have the cleanest draw for the German sides, although by no means is it easy. They also visit the lovely AXA Stadium to play FC Braga of Portugal. At home, they host Portsmouth of England and Herenveen of Holland.
5. Group F
Hamburg lead the league and easily dismissed Romanian outfit Unirea Urziceni. As another top seed, they missed out on a chance to face Martin Jol’s old club Tottenham, but hopefully both teams can progress to set up such a tasty affair. However they are in the group of champions as they face two other past Euorpean holders in Aston Villa and Ajax. Both ties against these teams will be at HSH Nordbank. Their away games will be against eastern sides Slavia Prague and MSK Zilina of Slovakia.