So, I said I’d make an effort this season to learn about the teams that garner a “WHO?” reaction during the Europa League draw ceremony. With that in mind, I compiled some random stats and trivia on said teams.
NK Maribor: Maribor won their 11th Slovenian PrvaLiga title and have a solid history in European competitions. They’ll take on La Liga’s Sevilla FC in the round of 32.
FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk: Proof that the Ukrainian Premier League is more than just Shakthar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv (although Dnipro lost 3-0 to Shakthar in last season’s domestic cup final). They face Tottenham Hotspur in the next round of the Europa League.
Trabzonspor AS: Currently 7th in Turkey’s SuperLig; they made last season’s cup final, losing 1-0 to Fenerbache. They face Juventus next, and facing the Italian team should bring a familiar feeling; back in 2011, they beat Inter Milan in the Group Stage of the Champions League.
FC Chornomorets Odesa: Another representative of the Ukrainian Premier League, Chornomorets are in the round of 32 thanks to a 1-0 upset win over Eredivisie stalwarts PSV Eindhoven. Next up: Ligue 1’s Olympique Lyonnais. We might have a Ukrainian derby on our hands if they and Shakthar progress to the next round.
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad: Repping for the Bulgarian league, which is known simply as A Group, Ludogorets won their second consecutive league title in May. For their first appearance in the knockout stages of a European competition, they’ll face Serie A’s Lazio.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC: The current Israeli Premier League champions (their 19th title overall) will face Chelsea slayers FC Basel in the round of 32. Will they have to contened with the goals of Basel’s Mohamed Salah? Time – and the January transfer window – will tell.
FC Slovan Liberec: Representatives from the Czech domestic league (the truly wonderfully named Gambrinus liga), where they currently sit 6th in the table, FC Slovan Liberec are likely looking to upstage last year’s league champions Viktoria Plzen, who have a history of solid showings in European competition. Liberec will first have to get past Holland’s AZ Alkmaar.
FC Rubin Kazan: This Russian Premier League team just fired their coach of 12 years, Kurban Bedyev. Their current position of 11th in the league table might have something to do with that. Still, they’re having a decent run in Europe this season, advancing to the KO stage of the Europa League unbeaten. Not sure that will help them when they face Real Betis
PAOK FC: Currently second in the Greek league – and keen to take the domestic title away from Olympiacos – PAOK will take on Benfica in the round of 32.
Esbjerg fB: Winners of last season’s Danish Cup and currently 11th in the Danish Superliga table, Esbjerg will face Serie A’s surging Fiorentina in the round of 32.
FC Salzburg: The team that plays in the other Red Bull Arena. I kid. But seriously, this team – otherwise known as Red Bull Salzburg – is part of the international Red Bull sports family, which also includes my New York Red Bulls (They even wear the same kits!) Winner of 6 Austrian Bundesliga titles, Salzbarg will take on Ajax – just booted out of the Champions League – in the round of 32.