Wednesday, February 13, 2008

UEFA Cup: Europe’s ‘B’ Championship Resumes

Finally, Europe resumes international play today with some tantalizing UEFA Cup draws. Probably the biggest shocker of the day is Rangers’ nil-nil home draw against Panathinaikos. Rangers figures to be in for some heavy labor in Athens in the second leg.

Otherwise, this suddenly stacked tournament held to form.

Intriguing Sporting shut out Basle, 2-0, at home while Bremen blanked Braga, 3-0. Tim Wiese saved two penalties for the Germans. Anderlect, PSV, Marseille and Everton were among the other winners.

Tomorrow, Benfica hosts Nuremberg, Rosenborg hosts Fiorentina, Aberdeen entertains Bayern Munich and Hamburg visits FC Zurich.

This tournament generally doesn’t get the splash the Champions League gets, nor does it usually deserve it. For American readers, UEFA Cup definitely plays NIT to the Champions League’s NCAA Tournament.

But the stellar names still in the running for Europe’s second biggest club title are intriguing. Common sense says Bayern Munich wins this in a cakewalk, but it won’t be easy. Many of these clubs still in UEFA Cup contention are floundering on the domestic front and may decide to focus on winning the UEFA Cup. That means Bayern will have a tough road against the Aberdeen’s, Sportings, PSVs and Fiorentinas of the tournament--not to mention the presence of fellow domestic foes Bremen, Leverkusen and Hamburg.

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