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Europa League

August 26, 2011

German clubs Schalke and Hanover will be confident of progressing past the Europa League group stage after receiving favorable group opponents at the official draw in Monaco on Friday.

Teams are draw from from bowls
In all, 48 teams were pooled in the group stagesImage: dapd

European football's governing body UEFA held the draw for the group stage of the Europa League on Friday, with German clubs Hanover and Schalke receiving tricky yet surmountable group opponents.

Hanover, who finished last season in fourth place in the Bundesliga, were grouped with Danish champs Copenhagen, Belgian league runners-up Standard Liege and Ukrainian cup winners Vorskla Poltava. It's the first time in nearly two decades the club from Lower Saxony is playing in Europe.

The northern German club, who have managed a strong start to this season with two wins and a draw to be in second place on the Bundesliga table, will likely be most troubled by Copenhagen, who missed out on Champions League football only after dropping out to Czech team Plzen in the playoffs.

Standard Liege have a lot of European experience and should also provide strong opposition, but Vorskla, who haven't progressed past the qualifying rounds in Europe since 2000, should be a manageable task.

Hanover score away from home against Sevilla
Hanover overcame a difficult trip to Sevilla to qualifyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"The group will be a nice challenge," said Hanover Sports Director Jorg Schmadtke following the group stage draw. Hanover had to negotiate a thorny two-legged playoff against Spanish club Sevilla to make it this far in Europe, with Schmadtke adding that the experience had strengthened his squad.

Group favorites

Schalke, meanwhile, were dealt a somewhat more manageable group and must make their way past Romanian cup finalists Steaua Bucuresti, Israeli league winners Maccabi Haifa and AEK Larnaca, who finished fourth in Cyprus last year.

Although the Germans finished a lowly 14th last domestic season and qualified for Europe by merit of winning the German Cup, they've enjoyed a somewhat positive start to their current German and European campaigns.

After demolishing Finnish club HJK Helsinki 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff round, Schalke should be confident moving into the tournament's next phase. The club has also enjoyed an encouraging start to the Bundesliga season with two wins from three.

Steaua Bucuresti finished the Romanian league in fifth place, while Maccabi Haifa dominated last year's edition of the Israeli Premier League and fell in the Champions League qualifiers, and thus could pose a problem for Schalke. AEK Larnaca are probably less of a threat, but are an ambitious club that have thrived under new Dutch leadership in the shape of Jordi Cruyff and Tom Caanen.

Schalke's scorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar celebrates
Klaas Jan Huntelaar bagged four second-leg goals against HJKImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Schalke officials seemed upbeat about the luck of the draw.

"This is a manageable group in which we can see ourselves as favorites and want to progress to the next phase. The qualification phase has shown us that every opponent can be difficult," said Schalke Sports Director Horst Heldt.

Coach Ralf Rangnick labeled the group "interesting," adding the club had the "clear objective of qualifying for the knock-out rounds."

Schalke made it through to the semifinals of Europe's top-tier tournament, the Champions League, last season, losing to runners-up Manchester United.

The Europa League group stage begins mid September, with the final to be played May 9 next year in Bucharest, Romania.

Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Matt Hermann