Two-time UEFA Europa League winners Sevilla will begin their bid for glory in the 2013-14 edition of the competition on Thursday.
The Spanish club won Europe’s second-tier tournament in both 2006 and 2007, and will participate this time around after Rayo Vallecano and Malaga, who finished eighth and sixth respectively last season, were precluded from entering by the LFP and UEFA respectively.
Sevilla will take on Montenegrin outfit Mladost Podgorica at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in the first leg of the teams’ tie, and should be strong favourites to reach the group stages.
However, the Andalusian side’s goalkeeper Beto insists he and his team-mates will not be taking their opponents lightly.
“With respect, there are no easy matches. In theory we have more history in the Europa League, but in reality we have to demonstrate on the pitch that we are superior,” he told the club’s official website.
“We will always show maximum respect to the opposition. Our objective is get past these two preliminary games, to get to the group stage, and to take Sevilla to where they deserve to be.”
Several other high-profile names will also join Sevilla in bidding for a place in the group stages on Thursday.
Club Brugge of Belgium and France’s Saint-Etienne – both former European Cup runners-up – are among them, as they face Slask and Milsami respectively.
Regular UEFA Champions League participants Standard Liege and Rubin Kazan will also be present, with the Belgians meeting Xanthi while their Russian counterparts take on Randers.
At the other end of the scale, Premier League outfit Swansea City are preparing for their first experience of the Europa League, and must try and overcome a Malmo side who beat Hibernian 9-0 on aggregate in the last round.
The Welsh club’s Danish boss Michael Laudrup, who lifted the European Cup with Barcelona as a player, has emphasised the importance of keeping a clean sheet in Thursday’s home leg at the Liberty Stadium.
“The key to playing in Europe with the first leg at home is not to concede a goal,” he told Wales Online. “Away goals can be crucial. There is a huge difference between 1-0 and 2-1 in European first legs at home.
“When you play away first it is all about scoring a goal. For us it’s about keeping a clean sheet. 1-0 is a good result on Thursday. Of course, 2-0 would be better.”
In total, 58 teams are in action in the third round of qualifying, with the second legs scheduled for a week later.