Friday, January 30, 2015

Tottenham Hotspur-Lyon, Liverpool-Zenit St. Petersburg, Chelsea-Sparta Prague highlight Europa League Round of 32

American star Clint Dempsey leads Tottenham Hotspur´s attack. (Alastair Grant/AP file photo)
American star Clint Dempsey leads Tottenham Hotspur's attack. (Alastair Grant/AP file photo)

NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Chelsea's reward for failing to defend the Champions League title was being drawn on Thursday to play Sparta Prague in the last 32 of the second-tier Europa League. 

Zenit St. Petersburg, the 2008 UEFA Cup winner, will face Liverpool, and Tottenham will play Lyon. 

Defending champion Atlético Madrid, which beat Chelsea in the Super Cup in August, was paired with Rubin Kazan. 

Three-time winner Inter Milan will play Cluj, and Ajax plays Steaua Bucharest in a meeting of former European champions. 

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The draw included eight third-place teams from the Champions League groups, and 24 which advanced from Europa League groups. 

First-leg matches are played on Feb. 14, and return games on Feb. 21. 

UEFA also drew the last-16 pairings, putting Inter and Tottenham on course to meet again after thrilling Champions League group-stage matches two years ago. Chelsea and Ajax could meet in March if both win through their last-32 matches. 

Zenit, which also started in the Champions League, was content to get an attractive opponent. 

"Liverpool is one of the best European clubs. It is one of the most difficult draws but we are happy," Zenit chief executive Maxim Mitrofanov told The Associated Press. 

The first leg in Russia will likely be played in around minus-10 Celsius (14 F) temperatures, though Mitrofanov played down the potential advantage. 

"We are also a very technical team so we also need a good pitch," he said.

Atlético seeks a third title in four seasons in the Europa League, which has often struggled in the shadow cast by the Champions League. 

"We're happy to be champions," Atlético director Clemente Villaverde said. "I think there are very, very important teams in it. Rubin Kazan is a very difficult team." 

UEFA President Michel Platini showed his support by meeting with officials from the 32 clubs, arriving after the Champions League last-16 draw ceremony was completed. 

Inter ambassador Luis Figo also defended the competition, which this season offers one-sixth of the prize money paid to clubs in UEFA's signature event. 

"Of course it's a prestigious competition for us," Figo told AP. "You just have to look at the teams in the competition and see it's difficult to reach the final." 

The Italian club's route to the final in Amsterdam will have to go through England or France. 

"Lyon are a club with many trophies and are a top team," Tottenham coach Andre Villas-Boas said. "It's a huge fixture and will fuel excitement." 

Tottenham's group-stage rival Lazio, which was paired with Borussia Moenchengladbach, still awaits details of UEFA disciplinary charges after Italian fans directed abuse at the English club's traditional Jewish following inside the Olympic Stadium in Rome. 

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino warned clubs to curb unsporting and racist behavior: "Don't let it spoil the party," he told officials. 

The Zenit vs. Liverpool matches are a likely focus for debate about racism. 

Some of the Russian clubs fans this week urged the club not to sign black or gay players, while Liverpool forward Luis Suarez served an eight-match ban last season for directing racial comments at Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. 

"Yes, we probably have some fans who have different opinions about racism," Mitrofanov told AP. "But we are here playing football and we are against racism. Playing in this competition will help."

2013 UEFA Europa League Round of 32 Matchups

BATE Borisov (Belarus) vs. Fenerbahçe (Turkey)

Inter Milan (Italy) vs. CFR Cluj (Romania)

Levante (Spaiin) vs. Olympiacos (Greece)

Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) vs. Liverpool (England)

Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Bordeaux (France)

Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) vs. Benfica (Portugal)

Newcastle United (England) vs. Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine)

VFB Stuttgart (Germany) vs. Genk (Belgium)

Atlético Madrid (Spain) vs. Rubin Kazan (Russia)

Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania)

FC Basel (Switzerland) vs. Dnipro (Ukraine)

Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia) vs. Hannover 96 (Germany)

Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) vs. Chelsea (England)

Borussia Mönchengladbach (Germany) vs. Lazio (Italy)

Tottenham Hotspur (England) vs. Olympique Lyon (France)

Napoli (Italy) vs. Viktoria Plzeň (Czech Republic)

Round of 16 Matchups

Napoli or Viktoria Plzeň vs. BATE Borisov or Fenerbahçe

Bayer Leverkusen or Benfica vs. Dynamo Kyiv or Bordeaux

Anzhi Makhachkala or Hannover 96 vs. Newcastle United or Metalist Kharkiv

VFB Stuttgart or Genk vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach or Lazio

Tottenham Hotspur or Lyon vs. Inter Milan or CFR Cluj

Levante or Olympiacos vs. Atlético Madrid or Rubin Kazan

FC Basel or Dnipro vs. Zenit St. Petersburg or Liverpool

Ajax Amsterdam or Steaua Bucharest vs. Sparta Prague or Chelsea

Graham Dunbar The Associated Press
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