- POSTED: 20 Aug 2014 09:48
Several former winners enter the Europa League picture this week as the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan begin the long road to glory in the play-off round.
PARIS: Several former winners enter the Europa League picture this week as the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan begin the long road to glory in the play-off round.
Tottenham, champions of the predecessor UEFA Cup in 1971 and 1984, travel to Cyprus where they'll face AEL Limassol in the first leg on Thursday. Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, plucked from Southampton in the summer, will make his European bow in a competition that he last season denounced as uninteresting, unattractive and one that "kills you".
However, since arriving at White Hart Lane the Argentine appears to have changed his tune, insisting that Spurs plan to take the competition seriously. "Tottenham, in every competition that we enter, we need to think, 'We win the competition'. We need this mentality," said Pochettino. "And if we play the Europa League, we need to play to win."
Thursday's opponents AEL, pipped to the Cypriot title by APOEL Nicosia on the final day of last season, are under no illusions as to the task that awaits them. "(Spurs) are a massive club and it is crucial we minimise our mistakes against them because they know how to punish every little error," AEL coach Ivaylo Petev told UEFA.com. Captain Marios Nikolaou chimed in, acknowledging the odds are stacked against him and his teammates, but remained confident of an upset. "We know they are a great side but we certainly don't fear them - we will look them in the eye. We will need to be at our best. We were handed a tough draw, but that is football and we need to be ready."
Three-time former champions Inter Milan return to European competition after a year out and have been drawn against Icelandic minnows Stjarnan. Inter strengthened their squad in the close season with the arrivals of former Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic, on-loan striker Pablo Osvaldo and combative midfielders Yann M'Vila and Gary Medel.
The start of the Italian domestic season is still almost a fortnight away but Inter legend, turned vice-president Javier Zanetti, who retired in May after 19 years at the club, said the Nerazzurri wouldn't be caught cold in their quest for more continental success. "We care a lot about this competition and we want to go all the way. We won't underestimate anybody because all teams are dangerous in Europe," stressed Zanetti, who scored in Inter's 3-0 victory over Lazio in the 1998 final. "Our opponents have already played three rounds in the competition so they are obviously in better shape than us."
Defender Juan Jesus is hoping Inter take the pressure off themselves with a commanding display in Wednesday's first leg in Reykjavik. "We need to produce a big performance up there and score as many as we can so that we're more relaxed going back to the San Siro," he told the club's in-house TV station, Inter Channel.
Hull City scraped past Slovakians Trencin in their European debut but Tigers manager Steve Bruce expects a step up in class against Belgian Cup winners Lokeren. "It will be a different game," Bruce said of Thursday's tie in Belgium. "Lokeren are a very, very good side from what I've seen of them and as we know, Belgium is producing some very good players. It will be a difficult game for us."