Everton braced for 'tough' Benfica tie

Moyes' men will face Portuguese giants in Europe while Fulham meet Roma

Everton will face the real "Tractor Boys" as well as Benfica, a club steeped in European football history, in the group stage of the new-look Europa League. David Moyes' side take on the Portuguese club as well as AEK Athens and BATE Borisov from Belarus in Group I.

BATE stands for the "Borisov Works of Automobile and Tractor Electric Equipment" and showed their mettle in last season's Champions League, drawing home and away with Juventus. Fulham, the other Premier League representatives in the competition – the rebranded Uefa Cup – will play Roma, Basle and CSKA Sofia.

Everton club secretary David Harrison said: "Benfica is a tie everyone will be looking forward to but it will be a tough night both home and away. Belarus will have plenty of its own difficulties to cope with, and AEK Athens are a big club too."

Harrison said the new format was a big improvement on the old Uefa Cup where each group contained five clubs, with each playing two sides at home and two different ones away. He added: "The finances this year are increased and in the old format there was a lot of luck involved. This evens things up a bit now."

Benfica have a strong European pedigree having won the European Cup in 1961 and 1962 and reached the final on seven occasions. They finished third in the Portuguese league last season behind Porto and Sporting Lisbon.

Celtic dropped out of the Champions League in the qualifying round at the hands of Arsenal and now have their eyes on becoming the Europa League's first winners.

Ronnie Hawthorn, Celtic's head of operations said: "It's obviously nice to win any competition but it would be particularly historic to become the first winners of the Europa League and that is our goal. Each of these games have their own challenges and we will prepare carefully."

Hamburg will be a tough prospect – they finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season under former Tottenham manager Martin Jol, and are second in the German league. Rapid Vienna meanwhile underlined their potential by beating Aston Villa on away goals to reach the group phase.

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson admitted it was a tough group but said he would not be losing any sleep over it. He said: "We are seeing this as an adventure. We are aware that for a team like Fulham to even reach this stage is a fantastic achievement. We will do our best and put on a good performance. I will have sleepless nights if we are bottom of the Premier League and that is why it has to be the priority."

Hodgson also played down the possible threat to fans – Rome has become a notorious destination for English fans. He added: "I can't imagine that at this stage of the competition a team like Fulham or Basle or Sofia going to engender the type of hatred that will get their fans sharpening their knives, because that's what they do."

Europa League: Key dates

*Group stages: 17 September, 1, 22 October, 5 November, 2/3, 16/17 December 2009

*Round of 32: 18, 25 February, 2010

*Round of 16: 11, 18 March

*Quarter-finals: 1, 8 April

*Semi-finals: 22, 29 April

*Final (Hamburg): 12 May

*GROUP A

Ajax

Anderlecht

Dynamo Zagreb

Timisoara

*GROUP B

Valencia

Lille

Slavia Prague

Genoa

*GROUP C

Hamburg

Celtic

Hapoel Tel Aviv

Rapid Vienna

*GROUP D

Sporting Lisbon

Heerenveen

Hertha Berlin

Ventspils

*GROUP E

Roma

Basel

Fulham

CSKA Sofia

*GROUP F

Panathinaikos

Galatasaray

Dynamo Bucharest

Sturm Graz

*GROUP G

Villarreal

Lazio

Levski Sofia

Salzburg

*GROUP H

Steaua Bucharest

Fenerbahce

FC Twente

Sheriff

*GROUP I

Benfica

Everton

AEK Athens

BATE

*GROUP J

Shakhtar Donetsk

Bruges

Partizan Belgrade

Toulouse

*GROUP K

PSV Eindhoven

FC Copenhagen

Sparta Prague

CFR Cluj

* GROUP L

Werder Bremen

Austria Vienna

Athletic Bilbao

Nacional

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick