The round of 16 of the Europa League starts this week and there is no shortage of exciting competitive matches to look forward to.
Of course, all the prestige goes to the Champions League where the best teams of Europe play. But in the current format, the Europa League is reaching a height; it had not reached since the heydays that preceded the formation of the UCL.
The expansion of the UCL led to monopoly over the many powerful clubs of Europe. Before that, many of those teams found themselves playing in the less prominent tournaments, the UEFA cup and the Cup Winners’ cup.
At certain points, you could be guaranteed more competitive match-ups in the UEFA cup and the CWC than in the Champions cup.
The days when the second rated UEFA cup suffered from neglect are over and the new EL is as exciting to watch as the UCL.
The last 16 teams of the EL don’t lack historical success in Europe. In total, 12 clubs have won some kind of European trophy in the past; 29 trophies to be exact, including 14 European cups/UCL titles.
To find out how competitive this group of clubs is, look no further than the current league tables across Europe. 10 of them are in a position to play in the UCL next year and 6 of them would be starting directly in the group stage.
Enough said about the past and the future. The present is even more than gratifying.
The rise of the Russian and the Ukrainian teams add a new flavor to the competition.
Although historically, they failed to make their marks on the top European competition, they managed to win the UEFA cup three times in the last 6 years. The only other country to win it in this period is Spain.
The former Soviet contingents won the Soviet league 33 times out of total 54. And their success didn’t stop after the split. In the last 19 years, Dynamo won 13 Ukrainian league titles while in Russia, Spartak won 9 and CSKA won 3 and Zenit won 2 titles.
It’s going to be East meet West in four match-ups. The most intriguing of them is the trip by Man City to Dynamo. Man City needs not underestimate the Ukrainians who deposed of Besiktas with two huge wins scoring 8 goals in total. And we all know that English clubs usually don’t do well when they travel that far east.
Of the other 4 meetings, the most fascinating one will be taking place in Braga, Portugal. Liverpool with a new-found self-belief and playing some of their best soccer this season will be tested by Braga which dropped from the UCL after finishing third in a group containing Arsenal and Shakhtar.
Both are coming off great results in the weekend. Liverpool beat Man Utd 3-1 and Braga beat Benfica 2-1.
And finally, did I mention that the traditional European powers like Ajax, PSV, Benfica, Porto, PSG are still in it. And of course, there is Rangers.
Here is the list of past winners:
Club: total European titles (European cups/UCL titles)
Liverpool: 8 titles (5)
Ajax: 6 (4)
Porto: 3 (2)
Benfica: 2 (2)
PSV Eindhoven: 2 (1)
Dynamo Kiev: 2
Bayer Leverkusen: 1
CSKA Moscow: 1
Zenit St Petersburg: 1
Manchester City: 1
Paris St Germain: 1
(Teams in bold have never won the UEFA cup.)
On Thursday 1 pm EST:
Braga vs. Liverpool
CSKA Moscow vs. Porto
PSV Eindhoven vs. Rangers
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Villarreal
On Thursday 3 pm EST:
Ajax Amsterdam vs. Spartak Moscow
Benfica vs. Paris St Germain
Dynamo Kiev vs. Manchester City
Twente Enschede vs. Zenit St Petersburg
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