Liverpool wary of Unirea challenge

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez sees the Europa League as a realistic opportunity to win silverware despite being handed a tough draw against Romania champions Unirea Urziceni.

Like the Reds the Romanians exited the Champions League group stages having finished third behind Sevilla and Stuttgart – and ahead of Rangers – and Benitez knows they pose a threat.

“For me it is too early to talk about it because we know we will play in February so we have plenty of time to prepare and learn about the other team,” said the Spaniard.

“It will be tough. Unirea won the league in their country and were in a tough group with Sevilla and Stuttgart – I have some friends in Sevilla so maybe I’ll be in touch with them. But it is important to have an option to win any trophy. The Europa League is different to the Champions League but there are some good teams in it.

“We have to progress if we can and then it is an opportunity to win a trophy and we will try to do it.”

Liverpool, as an unseeded team after their poor Champions League display, will play the first leg at home on February 18 before travelling to Romania the following week.

“We would prefer to play the second game at home but we have to be ready. It will be interesting,” added Benitez.

Should Liverpool get past Unirea they will play the winners of Lille v Fenerbahce in the last 16.

Meanwhile, Ajax boss Martin Jol today described his side’s meeting with Juventus in the last 32 of the Europa League as “a beautiful draw”.

The showdown between the two former European champions is the stand-out tie of the round, with the winner facing either Fulham or Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 16.

Ajax won the Champions League in 1995 and were beaten in the final on penalties by Juve the following year.

“(This is) a beautiful draw,” Jol said.

“Especially for our young players it will be a good experience to play two games against this kind of opposition.”

Juve’s sporting director Alessio Secco believes the Italians have what it takes to progress.

“With the right motivation and by showing our qualities, Juventus can make it.

“Let’s hope that the happy memory of the 1996 Champions League victory in Rome may help us.”

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