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English clubs look to impress on UEFA Cup stage

SoccerNews in UEFA Europa League 29 Aug 2008

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Everton will head up a raft of English Premier League clubs going into the first round of the UEFA Cup, hoping to end an eight-year wait to bring the trophy back to British shores.

Aston Villa, Manchester City, Portsmouth, Tottenham and the Blues had mixed fortunes in Friday’s draw in Monaco, with some coaches fancying their lot more than others.

Everton will play Standard Liege looking to go one better than city rivals Liverpool – the last British club to take home the trophy when they beat Deportivo Alaves 5-4 in an epic encounter in 2001.

And it will be the second time the Belgian champions have travelled to Merseyside, after narrowly losing out to Liverpool in the second qualifying round of the Champions League midweek.

David Moyes, who steered Everton to the last 16 in last year’s competition, will be boosted by news that Manchester United’s French striker Louis Saha is set to join the Goodison Park team.

After a poor performance against Denmark’s diminutive Midtjyllandin on Wednesday, Mark Hughes’ Manchester City will have to roll their sleeves up to see off Cyprus side Omonia Nicosia.

Meanwhile Tottenham, who have won the competition twice since the early 1970s, have a potentially tricky home tie against Polish first division champions Wisla Krakow.

Aston Villa, who cooly disposed of Icelandic outfit Hafnarfjordur with a 5-2 aggregate win, have drawn relative unknowns Bulgaria’s Litex Lovetch, but wily Martin O’Neill is sure to take the challenge seriously.

Villa star Gareth Barry said he was delighted to be playing in Europe, adding it was good for the club and supporters’ morale.

“It’s important for this club to be back in the UEFA Cup. It’s nice for the fans to experience European football again,” he told the club’s website Friday.

“This is a big tie for us because we are aiming to get into the group stages.”

Aston Villa will hope that new signing from Newcastle United James Milner can make an instant impact on the European stage.

Portsmouth will fancy their chances against up-and-coming Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes while Motherwell take on French side Nancy – who finished fourth in the league – confident of an upset.

Scottish sides have done well in the tournament of late with Celtic reaching the final in 2003 under O’Neill and Rangers running out second to last year’s winners Zenit St Petersburg.

Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp warned against complacency and urged his players to concentrate on league matters for now.

“It is not an easy draw. They are a good side. The Portuguese league is a tough one with teams like FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica – but Vitoria finished third last season so they can’t be bad,” he said.

“It is a big thing for this club to be in Europe and we are looking forward to it – but we’ve got several important Premier League games before that and we’ll focus on those first.”

Former England boss Steve McClaren will also taste the flavour of France when his Dutch side FC Twente face Rennes.

The top-rated side in the draw will be Italy’s AC Milan, Champions League winners in 2007, who will go up against FC Zurich.

The UEFA first round ties will be played on September 18 and October 2.

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