The much-awaited draw for this year’s Europa League was conducted one day after the more-prestigious Champions League draw with UEFA’s comedic genius Gianni Infantino once more in fine form.
There are some intriguing match-ups for this year’s group stage involving Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, and FC Augsburg. Here’s the low-down on what the draw means for the Bundesliga’s European contenders…
FC Schalke 04
Group K: Schalke, APOEL, Sparta Prague, Asteras Tripolis
A fairly straight-forward draw for the Königsblauen and one which they will expect to breeze through. Schalke were the last German club to win the competition (in its former guise as the UEFA Cup) on that historic night in 1997 when they upset firm favourites Inter Milan. The heroes of ’97 became legends, and the current crop will be keen to follow in their footsteps.
Cypriot side APOEL from Nicossia dropped into the Europa League following their Champions League-qualification-round elimination at the hands of Astana of Kazakhstan. Sparta Prague and Greek side Asteras Tripolis round out the quartet.
“It could have been much harder for us, even though we have respect for our opponents. We can live with the draw and go into the competition with anticipation and confidence. I have no personal link to any of the teams, but Johannes Geis can report from Mainz’s games last season with Asteras. The goal is to reach the next round.” – Schalke coach Andre Breitenreiter
Group C: Borussia Dortmund, PAOK, FK Krasnodar, Qäbälä
Dortmund’s crazy 11-5 aggregate win over Norwegian side Odd has led to their being pooled into what will be seen as an easy draw for die Schwarzgelben considering the highly impressive start they have made to the new season.
Greek side PAOK, the Russians of FK Krasnodar, and the Azerbaijani minnows Qäbälä are BVB’s opponents, so there is quite a bit of travel involved for the die-hard Dortmund fans looking to follow their side in Europe.
“Sporting-wise it is an interesting group. At PAOK we’ll expect an extraordinary atmosphere, Krasnodar are a strong Russian team with lots of foreign players, and Qäbälä knocked out Panathinaikos. We will prepare and be ready for these challenges.” – Thomas Tuchel
Group L: Atletico Bilbao, AZ Alkmaar, FC Augsburg, Partizan
The Függerstädter’s debut campaign has seen them drawn into a tricky group, which will be a stern test for Markus Weinzierl’s side. Atletico Bilbao, recent conquerors of Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup, are the favourites, while Dutch outfit AZ have plenty of European experience. A hostile atmosphere, as well as a tough game, will await Augsburg when they take on Partizan Belgrade.
“We are delighted with the draw. They are three attractive teams and, for sure, three nice trips for our fans. We want to, like in the Bundesliga, bring a few surprises in these six games and enjoy the great experience of the Europa League.” – Markus Weinzierl
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