Potential Europa League playoff opponents revealed
PAOK, AEK, Aris and Atromitos have all discovered their potential opponents in the 2019/2020 UEFA Europa League playoff round.
AEK, who played in the 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League, have been handed a difficult draw. If they progress past Universitatea Craiova in the third qualifying round, AEK will play either Sparta Prague or Trabzonspor in the playoffs, two clubs which are capable of giving the Athenians a real run for their money.
Sparta Prague regularly compete in the group stages of UEFA competitions. Founded in 1893, Sparta have always been considered as a top club in the Czech Republic, winning the domestic championship 33 times and the Czech Cup on 14 occasions. In Europe, their best result was reaching the semi-finals of the 1991/1992 European Cup, and they last played in the group stage of a continental tournament in the 2016/2017 Europa League season. In that particular campaign, Sparta advanced in a group against Internazionale, Southampton and Hapoel Beer-Sheva, subsequently losing to FC Rostov in the Round of 32.
In recent years, Trabzonspor haven’t been able to challenge the likes of Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Turkey, but they have a rich history and are no easy opponents. Domestically, Trabzonspor have won six national championships, while also hoisting the Turkish Cup aloft in eight separate seasons. Incidentally, this will be Trabzonspor’s maiden European campaign in four years, and they most recently played in the group stage of the Europa League in the 2014/2015 season.
TRICKY DRAW FOR ARIS
Last week, Aris made a successful European comeback by defeating AE Limassol in the second qualifying round, and they will play either Partizan Belgrade or Yeni Malatyaspor in the playoffs if they manage to defeat Molde.
Partizan boast plenty of European pedigree. Well-known worldwide, Partizan compete in the group phase of UEFA competitions almost every year, notably progressing to the Last 32 of the 2017/2018 Europa League. However, Partizan were knocked out in the playoff qualification round of the Europa League last year, and the Serbians will be eager to get back on track this season. Two years ago, Partizan faced Olympiacos in the Champions League playoffs, conceding a 3:5 aggregate loss. Partizan have won the national championship eight times since Serbia and Montenegro were split into two different countries.
Yeni Malatyaspor of Turkey are newcomers to UEFA tournaments. This summer, the Turks made a positive start to life in the Europa League, beating Olimpija Ljubljana 3:2 on aggregate in a tense contest. In the previous campaign, Yeni Malatyaspor took everyone by surprise in the Turkish Super Lig, finishing one point ahead of Fenerbahce in fifth place.
ATROMITOS TO PLAY EITHER MIDTJYLLAND OR RANGERS
In the third phase of qualification, Atromitos must prove the doubters wrong and beat Legia Warsaw, and they now know that they’ll play either Midtjylland or Glasgow Rangers in the playoffs in the event they progress.
Midtjylland, one of the biggest teams in Denmark, regularly play in Europe and are no pushovers. Formed in 1999, Midtjylland have won the Superliga twice in 2015 and 2018, and they finished in second place of the 2018/2019 campaign behind winners FC Copenhagen. Midtjylland also won the Danish Cup this year by beating Brondby on penalties in the final. In Europe, Midtjylland are an experienced club in the Europa League qualifiers, but they are yet to qualify for the group stage.
Not long ago, Rangers were in financial ruin, but the Scots are well and truly back. In the 2018/2019 season, the Glasgow outfit made their grand return to the group stage of a European tournament, competing against Spartak Moscow, Villarreal and Rapid Vienna in the Europa League. Coached by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, Rangers are a typically gritty, determined British team, and they are favourites to advance past Midtjylland. Rangers have won the Scottish Premiership 54 times and the Cup on 33 occasions.
PAOK PITTED AGAINST WINNER OF SLOVAN BRATISLAVA - DUNDALK PAIR
At the moment, PAOK are naturally focused on defeating Ajax and progressing in the Champions League, but if the Dikefalos tou Vorra drop down to the Europa League they will play the winner of the Slovan Bratislava - Dundalk pair.
Slovan became Slovakian champions in the 2018/2019 season, but in the Champions League, they surprisingly lost to Sutjeska in the first qualifying round. In the Europa League second qualifying phase, Slovan progressed past KF Feronikeli, beating their opponents 4:1 on aggregate. Slovan have won the national championship 21 times and the 1968/1969 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
Dundalk are certainly becoming more respected in Europe. In Ireland, Dundalk have been the dominant club in recent years, winning the Premier Division in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Three years ago, Dundalk competed in the Europa League group stage for the first time in history, earning four points in a group with Zenit Saint Petersburg, AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi Tel Aviv. In the current season, the Irish champions began their campaign in the Champions League, beating FC Riga in a penalty shootout before conceding a 1:4 aggregate loss to Qarabag.
Full result of the draw for the 2019/2020 UEFA Europa League playoff round: