Spurs prepare to learn their fate in today’s Europa League draw
For all of Andre Villas-Boas’ ambitions in respect of the Europa League, Tottenham’s dogged but uninspiring progress through the group stage has done little to capture the imagination.
Spurs got the job done in the end, but there was precious little entertainment along the way as lacklustre 1-1 draws away at Panathinaikos and Maribor were combined with two goalless stalemates with Lazio.
It has hardly been a ‘European adventure’ so far – but the pulses may quicken this afternoon as the draw for the knockout stages is made in Switzerland.
The draw for the last 32 and the last 16 will both be made this afternoon in Nyon, Switzerland, mapping the Lilywhites’ route through the next two rounds – if they pass the first test, of course.
Spurs are unseeded because they finished second in their group, and they will be drawn against one of the seeded teams – with the exceptions of their fellow English sides Liverpool and Chelsea.
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Villas-Boas’ boys will also be unable to draw Lazio, given that they qualified from the same group, but there are some prodigious clubs amongst the remaining 13 possible opponents.
Spurs could be drawn against Benfica, who reached the Europa League semi-finals in 2011 and made it to the Champions League quarter-final last season before being knocked out by Chelsea.
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The Portuguese giants have fallen out of this season’s Champions League after failing to qualify from Group G, which included Barcelona and Celtic.
Greek champions Olympiakos have also been competing with Europe’s elite over the last few months, having finished third in Group B behind Schalke and Arsenal – and they are currently unbeaten in their league.
The same applies to Romanian outfit Cluj, who recently beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford, while Turkish outfit Fenerbahce have a strong pedigree in Europe.
Villas-Boas would probably like to avoid a trip to Turkey, and for the same reason he will be anxious to avoid the Russians Rubin Kazan, who Spurs faced last year.
Tottenham could also be drawn against one of two teams from Ukraine – Metalist Kharkiv or Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, who are managed by the former Spurs boss Juande Ramos.
There are some familiar faces closer to home too, with the ex-Lilywhites midfielder Steed Malbranque plying his trade for Lyon, who are currently joint top of the French league on points.
There are potential perils and pitfalls everywhere as Spurs await their fate in the last 32 today – but Villas-Boas and his players may well reflect that they are in the better half of the draw.
After all, they cannot be pitted against Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan or Ajax – who are also unseeded – and they will also avoid the likes of Bayer Leverkusen, Stuttgart, Napoli, Dynamo Kiev and Zenit St Petersburg in the initial draw.
In that sense, Spurs may count themselves fortunate – but they will play the first leg of their last-32 tie at home at White Hart Lane and will have to play away in the second leg, which is generally thought to give their opponents an advantage.
The draw for the last 32 will immediately be followed by the draw for the last 16, where there will be no seedings and home advantage will be determined by pot luck.
Tottenham’s possible opponents: Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic), Fenerbahce (Turkey), Bordeaux (France), Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine), Genk (Belgium), Rubin Kazan (Russia), Lyon (France), Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine), Hannover (Germany), Cluj (Romania), Olympiacos (Greece), Benfica (Portugal).
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs