UEFA Cup back in action this week

European club soccer returns this Wednesday and Thursday, as the Round of 32 begins in the UEFA Cup.

After three preliminary rounds of action and five matchdays in the group stage last autumn, one of Europe’s two major club competitions has reached the business end for the 2007/08 season. 24 clubs from the UEFA Cup group stage join the eight clubs who finished third in the UEFA Champions League group stage for this juncture of the tournament. Included in the field are six former winners of the competition.

10 first-leg matches are set for Wednesday, with English Premier League side Everton facing a tricky trip to Norway to face SK Brann. Former UEFA Cup winners Galatasaray of Turkey are sure to make life uncomfortable for Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Istanbul, while Sporting Lisbon will partake in their 200th European game when they host Swiss club FC Basel. Scottish giants Rangers look to put the disappointment of a Champions League exit behind them when they host Greek club Panathinaikos in Glasgow.

A further six ties take place on Thursday, with tournament favourites Bayern Munich travelling to Scotland to face former European Cup Winners’ Cup holders Aberdeen. Two-time UEFA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur will be the guests of Czech Republic league leaders Slavia Prague, with Spurs manager Juande Ramos aiming for a hat-trick of triumphs in the competition after leading his former club Sevilla to the title in the last two seasons. Fellow EPL club Bolton Wanderers, meanwhile, are sure to have their hands full with a talented Atletico Madrid side that includes Argentine striker Sergio Aguero. Soccer fans in Canada will remember him from last summer when he led Argentina to a successful defence of their FIFA U-20 World Cup title.

The second-leg matches are set for Thursday, February 21, with the Round of 16 slated for next month. This season’s UEFA Cup final will be held on Wednesday, May 14, at The City of Manchester Stadium in England. The winner will be awarded with the unique-looking Bertoni trophy, which was designed and crafted by the Bertoni workshops in Milan, Italy, and first presented at the 1972 UEFA Cup final.

For more information on this week's UEFA Cup ties, click here to view our brand-new Soccer Universe page.