A Chance For More UEFA Cup Fame Or Shame

Jodo previews the Premiership participants’ attempts at UEFA Cup Glory.

English participants Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers go into the second round of matches in this years UEFA Cup in confident moods. All three sides enjoyed opening day victories a fortnight ago and are already well-placed for qualification from their respective groups. Indeed with the top three places in each group ultimately making the next round, it already seems unlikely that any of the side’s group campaigns will end in failure. Victory tonight and sitting with 6 points should be all that is required to continue playing European football after Christmas. Since the group format was created only one club has failed to make the knock-out stages after accumulating a haul of 6 points. The unfortunate club being Glasgow Rangers in 2004.

For Blackburn Rovers in the first round of fixtures, the headlines were dominated, not by a fantastic European victory on foreign soil, but by allegations of racism towards Benni McCarthy made against Wisla Krakow defender Nikola Mijailovic. The Serb has since been penalised with a 5 game European ban, and to help emphasise the prehistoric mind-set of their opposition, AS Nancy Lorraine will wear anti-racism slogans on their shirts when they play a home game against Wisla tonight. The Poles will certainly now face an uphill struggle to alter their image on the European scene. Blackburn play host to FC Basel tonight safe in the knowledge that the elusive 6 points will as good as guarantee their passage into the next round. The Swiss outfit are notoriously poor travellers in European competition, but the result may be dependant on the current injury list at Ewood Park. Rovers currently have SEVEN first team players out injured and will be hoping to welcome back ‘Gamst’ Pedersen and Nonda to add some creativity to a side that looked well short of their best at Upton Park last Sunday. Celebrity Basel fan Roger Federer will be hoping for a gap so big in the Blackburn defence that a 40 year old man could stroll in unnoticed (Mr. T. Sheringham anyone?).

Antoine Sibierski was the hero for Newcastle against a resolute Fenerbahce outfit in their opening fixture. The Geordies left it late to grab all the points against the men from Istanbul. Glenn Roeder’s men must now attempt to achieve what Roeder’s former club West Ham couldn’t do, and win in Italy against Palermo. The Londoners went down 3-0 when they travelled to Sicily. On that evening 20 Englishmen were arrested in the downtown area of Palermo by local police, and the FA will be hoping not to see a repeat performance from the English representatives. Newcastle, similar to Blackburn, are currently undergoing a minor injury crisis and will be without first team regulars Stephen Carr, Celestine Babayaro, Scott Parker and Damien Duff. With second choice keeper Steve Harper also a doubt, rookie Tim Krul is standing by to make a rare appearance. Unfortunately for the ever-loyal, albeit misguided, Toon Army, they will be relying on Spanish misfit Albert Luque. The £9.5m sixth choice forward will be hoping to take this rare chance and climb above Owen, Martins, Ameobi, Sibierski and Rossi in the pecking order.

Tottenham boss Martin Jol will enjoy the rare luxury of resting some players with a view to the Chelsea fixture at the weekend. Unlike the other two English UEFA Cup participants, Spurs should be able to rest some players and keep them fresh for their defeat against Chelsea. The reckoning being that his fit and healthy players will be able to chase the ball all over the pitch even more against the Premiership champions. One alarming note from the team news from White Hart Lane was the return to the squad of Didier Zokora. The Ivorian has recovered from ‘a mild case of malaria’. Yes, that’s the same malaria that causes between one and three million deaths annually, and is an infectious disease. I wonder who has the fortune of looking forward to rooming with Didier for the coming away fixtures? Tottenham enjoyed an excellent victory when trvelling to Turkey for their opening fixture and that result alone will have sealed qualification already. They must be fully expected to follow up that performance with a routine victory against the Belgian also-rans.