UEFA Cup 3rd round 1st leg
Ajax v Auxerre
Ajax coach Ronald Koeman has a goalkeeping dilemma ahead of the Dutch champions match with Auxerre. First choice Hans Vonk misses out after sustaining a thigh strain in a 2-1 victory over NAC Breda on Sunday.
Koeman is also without playmaker Tomas Galasek, defender Zdenek Grygera and winger Wesley Snijder. January signing Angelos Charisteas is ineligible; his place could go to 18-year-old striker Ryan Babel.
Auxerre have injury concerns of their own, Yann Lachuer is out with a knee injury, and fullback Younes Kaboul won’t return until the second leg. Wingback Johan Radet is a long-term absentee. Striker Bonaventure Kalou and midfielder Philippe Violeau should be available.
Austria Vienna v Athletic Bilbao
Vienna have not played competitively since clinching a place in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup with a 2-1 over FC Utrecht on 16 December.
General manager Toni Polster doesn’t feel this will be a problem though.
“We are not going into this match to lose,” he said. “We are fresh, Bilbao have had some hard matches recently and they must be tired.”
The Austrian side are without midfielder Markus Kiesenebner, but otherwise have a full strength squad.
Bilbao go into the match in similarly positive mood, with striker Joseba Etxeberria confident ahead of the visit to Vienna.
“We will be going all out to win,” said the Spanish forward.
“That way a draw will be enough in the return. We are expecting Austria to attack us from the start – after all they are the home side. I just hope the playing surface has not suffered too much from the snow and icy temperatures.”
Panathinaikos v Sevilla
Panathinaikos will be hoping to get their season back on track as Sevilla travel to Athens for the first leg of this tie.
Following a string of poor results in the Alpha Ethniki and their Greek Cup elimination by arch-rivals AEK Athens, coach Zdenek Scasny was fired on the eve of the game, to be replaced by former Parma coach Alberto Malesani.
Sevilla climbed to third in La Liga on Sunday and look a good bet to progress to the last 16. Pablo Ruiz continues to miss out and young fullback Sergio Ramos misses out after injuring his knee in the recent defeat to Barcelona.
Parma v Stuttgart
The Italians will be without defenders Damiano Ferronetti and Cesare Bovo for the tough-looking task against Matthias Sammer’s Stuttgart team.
Coach Peitro Carmignani is expected to rest key players ahead of the vital Serie A relegation clash with Brescia on Sunday.
The Germans will be without a host of international players. Kevin Kuranyi, Andreas Hinkel, Philipp Lahm and Marco Strella all miss out.
Coach Sammer is highly respectful of Parma.
“We want to win, but this will be a hard task,” he said. “Their defence is very good and they seem a compact team. It is a joke that they are fighting against relegation in their league.”
Partizan Belgrade v Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
Partizan coach Vladimir Vermezovic is urging his players to exercise caution against the Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
“We have to be wise,” said Vermezovic. “Dnipro are fantastic on the counter attack and we cannot leave them a lot of space.”
The Serbo-Montenegrin side are without striker Pierra Boya through suspension and defender Ifeany Emeghara is a doubt with a knee injury.
Dnipro expect; Serhiy Matiukhin, Serhiy Motuz and Konstyantyn Kravchenk all to be passed fit. Midfielder Olexander Rykun believes the Ukrainian’s will progress: “ Every team in the last 32 is strong, but I think Partizan are beatable.”
Shakhtar Donetsk v Schalke
Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu leads his team into their first competitive game of 2005 without any of his new trio of Brazilian recruits; Elano Blumer, Ivan Saraiva and Jadson Rodriguez.
Schalke are also missing a key Brazilian, playmaker Lincoln has been left behind in Germany to rest his muscular problems. Compatriot Marcelo Bordon has a hamstring injury and also misses the game.
Sporting Lisbon v Feyenoord
Sporting captain, Pedro Barbosa has called upon his team mates to dominate the game tonight against Rudd Gullit’s Feyenoord side tonight.
“We must impose our football from the first minute of the game,” said Barbosa. “Our team has all the qualities to go through to the next round, home or away, Sporting must control this tie.”
Gullit remains cautious about his side’s chances in the competition:
“It would be a miracle if we were to win the UEFA Cup, nevertheless we will try to do everything that is possible to go even further in the competition,” he said.
Valencia v Steaua Bucharest
Spanish champions Valencia will look to the UEFA Cup as a way to revive their inconsistent season. Without a win since January 8, Sunday’s 2-1 reverse at home to Deportivo La Coruna effectively ended any hopes of retaining the title.
This latest setback has seen coach Claudio Ranieri come under increasing pressure. The former Chelsea boss spent lavishly in the summer and has seen his team fail to deliver.
Steaua’s preparations for the game were not helped by a turbulent flight from Milan to Valencia on Monday. Coach Walter Zenga is without defender Tiberiu Curt and midfielder Florentin Dumitru.
“We have nothing to lose,” said the Italian. “There is not any pressure for us – only for Valencia.”