English clubs face tough opposition in Europa League


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Manchester City and Manchester United will both face difficult matches in the last 32 of the Europa League after Roberto Mancini's side drew holders Porto and their neighbours were paired with fellow Champions League dropouts Ajax.

The Barclays Premier League pair were among the biggest names to be edged out of the Champions League group stages, both finishing third and being parachuted into today's draw in Nyon.

While many expected the demotion to Europe's second tier would be a blow to the pair's prestige, both fixtures would not be out of place in the Champions League knockout phase.

Porto, who secured the trophy last year under the guidance of now Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, host City in the first leg before a return fixture at the Etihad Stadium, while United will play in the Amsterdam ArenA first.

City and Ajax both found themselves in the Europa draw after being edged out of hard groups - City, finishing behind Bayern Munich and Napoli and the Eredivisie side missing out to Lyon and Real Madrid.

Both United and Porto were bettered by less fancied opposition, with Ferguson's side third behind Basel and Benfica and the Portuguese club edged by Apoel Nicosia and Zenit St Petersburg.

Another of the big-name Champions League fallers, Primera Division side Valencia, will face Stoke, with the first leg at the Britannia Stadium.

Lazio meet Atletico Madrid in another eye-catching fixture that will see one side fall well short of their expectations in the competition.

The three other drop-in sides from the Champions League - Viktoria Plzen, Trabzonspor and Olympiacos - have been matched with Schalke, PSV Eindhoven and Rubin Kazan respectively.

The remaining fixtures in the round of 32 are Salzburg v Metalist Kharkiv, AZ Alkmaar v Anderlecht, Steaua Bucharest v FC Twente, Lokomotiv Moscow v Athletic Bilbao, Udinese v PAOK Salonika, Braga v Besiktas, Wisla Krakow v Standard Liege, Hannover v Club Brugge and Legia Warsaw v Sporting Lisbon.

The draw for the last 16 followed immediately on, with either Manchester United or Ajax facing a clash with Lokomotiv or Bilbao, while the winner of Manchester City's clash with Porto will go on to play either Legia or Sporting.

Valencia or Stoke have been slated for a fixture with one of Trabzonspor or PSV.

Reflecting on City's Porto meeting, football administration officer Brian Marwood told Sky Sports News: "It's amazing, we've gone from the hardest group in the Champions League to getting the holders of the Europa League.

"It's a big game and we'll be looking forward to it.

"One thing we haven't had to endure is going through the early rounds where you play a lot of games. Porto are attractive opposition and the current champions. They are games we are looking forward to and are excited about."

Marwood also suggested an exchange of tips could be on the cards with Chelsea, who have been paired with City's Champions League group opponents Napoli in the next round of Europe's top competition.

"We could give Chelsea information on Napoli and (former manager) Andre Villas-Boas could give us information on Porto," said Marwood.

United boss Ferguson initially described dropping into the competition as a "penalty", but later suggested he had been misunderstood.

Today, he joined defender Chris Smalling in welcoming the meeting with Ajax.

He said: "I have never played them before in competitive football in my managerial career. They are a good team and we are looking forward to it."

Smalling added: "(Exiting the Champions League) was a massive disappoinment, but then you look at the calibre of teams that are in there (Europa League).

"We have drawn Ajax, they have a lot of history. That will be a good test. If you are in there, a lot of the teams will be kicking on. Whoever wins the competition will be a good team."

UEFA Europa League Round of 32 and Round of 16 draw is as follows:

FC Porto v Man City

Ajax v Man Utd

Lokomotiv Moscow v Athletic Bilbao

SV Salzburg v Metalist Kharkiv

Stoke City v Valencia

Rubin Kazan v Olympiakos

AZ Alkmaar v Anderlecht

Lazio v Atletico Madrid

Steaua Bucharest v FC Twente

Plzen v FC Schalke

Wisla Krakow v Standard Liege

SC Braga v Besiktas

Udinese v PAOK

Trabzonspor v PSV

Hannover v Club Brugge

Legia Warsaw v Sporting

Round of 32 first leg matches will be played 16 February. Second leg matches will be played 23 February

SV Salzburg/Metalist v Rubin K/Olympiacos

Legia W/Sporting v Porto/Man City

Steaua/Twente v Plzen/Schalke

Wisla K/Standard L v Hannover/Club Brugge

Stoke/Valencia v Trabzonspor/PSV

Az Alkmaar/Andrelecht v Udinese/PAOK

Lazio/Atletico M v SC Braga/Besiktas

Ajax/Man Utd v Lokomotiv M/Ahtletic B

Round of 16 first leg matches will be played 8 March. Second leg matches will be played 16 March.