Valencia and Fulham facing do-or-die games

AFP AND AP , PARIS AND LONDON

Wed, Dec 16, 2009 - Page 20

Fulham, Valencia, Genoa and Lille are among the sides bidding to reach the knockout stage of the Europa League as the competition’s group phase reaches its conclusion this week.

Premier League representatives Fulham are looking to join Roma in qualifying from Group E but face a winner-takes-all match at Swiss outfit Basel today.

“We entered [the tournament] for experience and for the joy it gives our supporters and we’ve given them fantastic value at home in all the games we’ve played,” Fulham coach Roy Hodgson said.

“We’ve certainly not let ourselves down away from home. We won’t let ourselves down in Basel. We want to win, we’d like to win and we’ll try to win, don’t worry about that,” he said.

Group B announced itself as the tournament’s most difficult pool at the group stage draw and Valencia, Lille and Genoa can all qualify going into their final matches in the group, with leaders Valencia hosting Genoa and Lille taking on Czech side Slavia Prague in northern France.

FC Copenhagen travel to Sparta Prague with both sides level on seven points in Group K.

Sparta will miss central defender Tomas Repka through suspension and playmaker Patrik Berger is out because of a long-term knee injury, but another central defender, Roman Hubnik, has recovered from an instep injury and should be available.

Lille’s compatriots Toulouse have a must-win game at Club Brugge, who are a point above Alain Casanova’s team in Group J.

“It’s the final of the group. It will be decided between them and us,” Toulouse captain Etienne Didot said.

“We knew that after drawing against Bruges at home we would definitely have to win there to qualify. We’re going there convinced that we can qualify and I think we’re going to do it,” he said.

Fifteen clubs have already made sure of a place in the knockout phase, including Everton, Villarreal, Roma, Werder Bremen, Benfica and defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk, last season’s UEFA Cup winners.

The list of top-rank contenders for the inaugural trophy now also features the eight third-placed teams from the Champions League group stage, with Liverpool, Juventus and German champions Wolfsburg likely to pose the biggest threat to the sides already in the competition.

The draw for the round of 32 takes place at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday.