Benfica beckon for Toffees in new-look Europa League

EVERTON will face the real Tractor Boys as well as Benfica, a club steeped in European football history, in the group stage of the new-look Europa League group stage.

David Moyes’ side take on the Portuguese club as well as AEK Athens and BATE Borisov from Belarus in Group I. BATE stands for the Borisov Works of Automobile and Tractor Electric Equipment and showed their mettle in last season’s Champions League, drawing home and away with Juventus.

Fulham, the other Premier League representatives in the competition – the rebranded UEFA Cup – will play Roma, Basle and CSKA Sofia.

Everton club secretary David Harrison said: “Benfica is a tie everyone will be looking forward to but it will be a tough night both home and away.

“Belarus will have plenty of its own difficulties to cope with there, and AEK Athens are a big club too.”

Harrison said the new format was a big improvement on the old UEFA Cup where each group contained five clubs, with each playing two sides at home and two different ones away. He added: “The finances this year are increased and in the old format there was a lot of luck involved. This evens things up a bit now.”

Benfica have a strong European pedigree, having won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962 and reached the final on seven occasions.

They finished third in the Portuguese league last season however, behind Porto and Sporting Lisbon.

Fulham, who beat Russian side Amkar Perm to qualify for the group phase, now have a trip to the Stadio Olimpico to look forward to.

Celtic dropped out of the Champions League in the qualifiers at the hands of Arsenal and now have their eyes on becoming the Europa League’s first winners.

Ronnie Hawthorn, Celtic’s head of operations said: “It’s obviously nice to win any competition but it would be particularly historic to become the first winners of the Europa League and that is our goal.

“Each of these games have their own challenges and we will prepare carefully for each of them.”

Hamburg are a tough prospect – they finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season under former Tottenham boss Martin Jol, and are currently second in the German league.

Rapid Vienna, meanwhile, underlined their potential by beating Aston Villa on away goals to reach the group phase.

UEFA Europa League group stage draw

Group A: Ajax, Anderlecht, Dinamo Zagreb, Politehnica Timisoara

Group B: Valencia, Lille, Slavia Prague, Genoa

Group C: Hamburg, Celtic, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Rapid Vienna

Group D: Sporting, Heerenveen, Hertha Berlin, FK Ventspils

Group E: Roma, Basle, Fulham, CSKA Sofia

Group F: Panathinaikos, Galatasaray, Dinamo Bucuresti, SK Sturm Graz

Group G: Villarreal, Lazio, Levski Sofia, SV Red Bull Salzbug

Group H: Steaua Bucuresti, Fenerbahce, FC Twente, FC Sheriff

Group I: Benfica, Everton, AEK Athens, BATE

Group J: Shakhtar Donetsk, Club Brugge, Partizan Belgrade, Toulouse

Group K: PSV, FC Copenhagen, Sparta Prague, CFR Cluj-Napoca

Group L: Werder Bremen, FK Austria Vienna, Athletic Bilbao, Nacional.

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