Champions League, Europa Draws Announced
For Champions League participant Sampdoria, they will take on Bundesliga club SV Werder Bremen on August 18 (away) and August 24 (home). The Werder are the 2009 UEFA Cup runners-up, losing 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk. The club is one of Germany’s most successful, regularly competing for a title as well as in European competitions. They’ve won four total titles, most recently in 2003-2004, and finished third last season. In the 2008-2009 UEFA Cup, they were nicknamed “The Italian Killers” after they defeated Udinese and AC Milan in the competition.
Their biggest name is Mesut Ozil, who gained fame for his excellent performance in this year’s World Cup. His scoring ability is the club’s biggest weapon and one Sampdoria will have a hard time stopping. The club’s backline is anchored by his tall fellow international Per Mertesacker as well as the athletic Brazilian Naldo. Serie A fans may recognize the team’s newest player, former Inter sub Marko Arnautovic who was acquired from FC Twente. You can read a team preview at our sister site Bundesliga Talk. This match-up will be a challenging one for Cassano and company, but if they can grab some goals in Bremen they should be favored with the second match at home.
Inter Milan, AS Roma, and AC Milan are the other three Serie A clubs participating in the Champions League. Their draws will be announced at the end of the playoff-round.
In the Europa League, Juventus will face Austrian club SK Sturm Graz, Palermo will face NK Maribor (Slovenia), and Napoli will face IF Elfsborg (Sweden). The first match will take place August 19, with the return August 26. The next round pairings will be announced August 27.
Sturm Graz has a history of competing in European tournaments, including last year’s Europa League. In 2009, they won two qualifiers then the play-off round against Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine) to qualify for group play. They finished 1-1-4 and failed to advance, with their only victory coming against Galatasaray 1-0 at home. This year, they beat Georgia’s Dinamo Tbilsi to reach the play-off round.
NK Maribor is the most successful club in Slovenia’s young soccer history. The Vijoliasti have won eight league titles and are the only club from the country to play in the Champions League. The beginning of the last decade saw the team play well despite financial troubles, and last season they captured the Slovenian Cup and Supercup. Slovenia’s most popular club, they defeated Videoton FC (Hungary) and Hibernian FC (Greece) to reach this stage. They are 0-2 all-time versus Italian clubs in European competitions.
Elfsborg will prove to be a good test for Napoli, but one that Napoli should pass. The Swedish club has won five titles, the most recent in 2006, and played in the 2009 UEFA Cup, losing to Lazio.