SC Freiburg’s foes in the Europa League’s Group H

SC Freiburg is returning to European competition for the first time since they reached the UEFA Cup in 2001-2002. Due to their coefficient score, the team was placed in Pot 2 for the draw, meaning they would avoid clubs like Wigan and Swansea City from England, Anzhi Makhachkala from Russia, and Red Bull Salzburg of Austria. However the club will still face a strong challenge if they are to reach the knockout stages. The Black Forest club were placed in Group H with Sevilla of Spain, Estoril from Portugal, and Slovan Liberec from the Czech Republic.

Sevilla

sevilla3The Andalusian club finished 9th in La Liga last season, a down year by their standards. However in Spain, where financial irregularities are all too common, they snuck into Europe due to the misfortune of others. Malaga who finished 6th, were barred from playing in Europe this season, and 8th place Rayo Vallecano were denied a license that would have permitted them to compete in Europe.

Do they have European success?

Outside of Spain’s big two, you could argue they are the next biggest club, and they have the pedigree to back it up.Sevilla is a back to back winner of the Europa League, defeating Middlesbrough 4-0 at the end of the 2005-2006 season. They knocked out Schalke 04 in the Semi-finals of that edition 1-0 over two legs. They won the next season’s Europa League as well, beating fellow Spanish club Espanyol 2-2 (3-1 in penalties). The team won the 2006 UEFA Super Cup over Barcelona 3-0 and finished runners-up in 2007 to Milan 3-1.

Do they have any players we might recognize?

Sevilla is now the home of former Mönchengladbach and Werder Bremen player Marko Marin. Marin is there on loan for the season from Chelsea. Marin, an attacking midfielder, scored 8 goals for German clubs. Their captain is former Schalke 04 midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who made 97 appearances, scoring 12 times for the miners. Long time Hamburger SV midfielder Piotr Trochowski also plays for the club, who also spent time with Bayern Munich in the early 2000s.

Are they a threat?

Yes they are, in fact I would imagine they are the favorites to win this group. While the club hasn’t reached the group stage in 3 years, they have the capability to reach the final stages. On top of the team’s ability, they are coached by Unai Emery. After spending a season with Spartak Moscow, the 41-year-old returned to Spain where he made a name for himself, guiding Valencia to 4 consecutive 3rd place finishes in Spain.

When are the matches?
Sevilla hosts the Brazilians of Breisgau on October 3, with the return leg being on the final group matchday, December 12.

Estoril

estorilHow did they get here?
The little club from Portugal had a league run for the ages last season, finishing in fifth, their highest ever league finish. In their first season back in the Premeira League, the club only conceded 37 goals in 30 matches. That defense has carried over to this season, as they are currently in 3rd, albeit through 3 matches. Estoril entered Europa League qualifying at the 3rd round, advancing past Hapoel Ramat Gan of Israel 1-0, getting their goal in the second leg. In the playoff round, the club faced Austrian cup winners Pasching. This matchup was much easier on the club and they eased into the group stages by a 4-1 scoreline.

Do they have European success?

Not even close. This is their first foray into European competition. so the trip to Praia on November 7th could see the club face a boisterous crowd.

Do they have any players we might recognize?

Carlitos, a 31-year-old wide midfielder spent two seasons with Hannover 96, but made just 8 appearances and played a grand total of 132 minutes., He has featured in all three of the teams league matches so far and notched 1 goal. The club has no Germans on its roster, but then again Portugal isn’t really a top destination for German players, as only 1 is currently in the top league. (Patrick Bauer who spent time on the Stuttgart second team, now plays for Maritimo.) The club has three players who have represented teams at the national level, Babanco has made 24 appearances and notched two goals for Cape Verde Islands, winger Javier Balboa has 12 appearances for Equatorial Guinea, and Luis Leal has 1 cap for Sao Tome and Principe

Are they a threat?

You can’t dismiss the Portuguese clubs in this competition, as they have shown their strength in recent years. But with the club having no European experience it’s tough to gauge how they’ll do. They have played either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation in their matches this season and have some decent wide players, but I would imagine them advancing out of the group might be a tall order for them.

When are the matches?

Freiburg hosts the Portuguese on October 24, and then travels there on November 7th.

Slovan Liberec

slovanHow did they get here?

2012-2013 saw the club finish third in the Gambrinus League, a disappointment for them since the year prior they won the league, but that still earned them entry into the Europa League in the second qualifying round. They advanced past Skonto of Latvia 2-2 through away goals that round and then beat FC Zurich of Switzerland 4-2 to reach the playoff round. It was there that they faced Italian side Udinese. Traveling to Italy for the first leg, the Czech reached halftime even at 1-1, before netting two more crucial away goals in the second half to head home with a 3-1 aggregate lead. A 1-1 draw in the second leg was enough to see this club reach the group stages.

Do they have European success?

The 3rd time is the charm for this club to reach the group stage of the Europa League, falling in both prior attempts at the playoff round in 2009-10 to Dinamo Bucharest of Romania and 2012-2013 to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of Ukraine. In 2003 the club lost in the semifinals of the Intertoto Cup to Schalke 04 1-2 over two legs, and the next year reached the final of the same competition before losing to Schalke again 1-3 on aggregate.

Do they have any players we might recognize?

No, but Liberec is where Theodor Gebre Selassie made a name for himself before moving onto Werder Bremen in June of 2012. The Czech international defender made 97 appearances for the Blue-whites and scored 8 times for the club. Former Czech international defender Radoslav Kovac plays for the club and has made 8 appearances this season, scoring a goal in their last match against defending league champions Victoria Plzen in a 1-1 draw. Kovac represented the Czech Republic 30 times, including 1 start at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The club has 3 current international players, Dzon Delarge of Congo, Michael Rabusic and Ondrej Kusnir of the Czech Republic and together the three have made 23 appearances with 3 goals and 3 assists combined.

Bremen defender Theodor Gebre Selassie helped Liberec win the 2011-12 Czech League.

Are they a threat?

While they have played the most games to reach the group stages, including defeating Udinese, I would be surprised to see this team advance out of the group. Considering the squad size is just 23, and the club also sits in third place in their domestic league, they may realize that fighting on both fronts may cause them to achieve none of their goals, and choose to sacrifice this year’s Europa League if it means they could win their league.

When are the matches?

Freiburg opens the group stage at home against Liberec on September 19. They make the journey to the Czech Republic on November 28.

Overall, I see this group as a strong challenge for Freiburg. Based on their recent league form, however this could be a major challenge for the club. It is crucial that they started against Liberec at home, where they can gain some confidence against a perceived weaker side. But a slow start could simply pile on to the struggles they’ve already encountered. I think they’ll regain some confidence and do well. Second place is easily within reach, and if they somehow regain their form from last year, they could challenge Sevilla for 1st place.

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Andrew Smith

Born in Indiana, Andrew is a 27-year-old Social Studies teacher who has traveled to Germany on multiple occasions. He enjoys learning more of the tactical side of the game and can be followed on Twitter at andsmith_46.

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