Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 20 News List

British, Spanish, French dominate UEFA final 32

AFP , PARIS

British, Spanish and French sides dominate the field in the UEFA Cup final 32 round that begins on Wednesday.

Thirty teams will do battle in an attempt to join Tottenham in the next round, with the English team benefitting from a bye due to Feyenoord's expulsion from the competition following fan violence in their group stage match against Nancy.

Blackburn and Newcastle carry the torch for England with Rangers flying the flag for Scotland; Spain has Espanyol, Osasuna, Celta Vigo and holders Sevilla fighting in their corner while France is represented by Nancy, Paris St Germain, Bordeaux and Lens.

Blackburn seemingly will draw the toughest test with a trip to 2002 Champions League finalists Bayer Leverkusen.

Both sides have had an inconsistent season, with Leverkusen sitting seventh in the German Bundesliga and Blackburn 10th in the English Premiership.

Blackburn enjoyed a stunning group stage run to finish top of their section while Leverkusen needed two goals in the last 12 minutes of their final game against Turkey's Besiktas to sneak into the knock-out stages.

Rangers face a daunting trip to Israel and Hapoel Tel-Aviv, whose only group stage win was a 4-2 success at PSG. A French fan was shot dead by an off-duty police officer after that game while protecting a Jewish supporter that had been set upon by a mob.

Rangers's UEFA Cup form has been in stark contrast to their league form, which eventually saw French coach Paul Le Guen dismissed from Ibrox.

Rangers trail their domestic rivals Celtic by a mammoth 19 points in the league but had looked composed and assured under Le Guen in Europe.

Le Guen is still in the competition, though, and will guide PSG during their trip to Athens to face AEK, which are coming off the back of an impressive 4-2 win over Monaco last weekend.

PSG struggled badly to reach the knock-out stages and only made it courtesy of a 4-0 victory over AEK's city rivals Panathinaikos in the French team's final group game, although the Greeks had already claimed the top spot and played like a team whose foot was firmly off the gas.

The tie of the round is the clash between Germans Werder Bremen and former European Champions Ajax, whose forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is among the tournament's top scorers.

Werder, who slipped six points off league leaders Schalke 04 at the weekend after a shocking 4-1 defeat at Stuttgart, may find motivation hard to come by after narrowly missing out on reaching the Champions League knock-out stages.

Holders Sevilla face a tricky tie against Steaua Bucharest while upwardly mobile Newcastle look to have one of the easier tasks left in the competition -- that of attempting to overcome Belgians Zulte-Waregem.

Ukraine champions Shakhtar Donetsk are concerned ahead of the visit of Nancy as they are still in their season break.

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