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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Anna Smaill’s debut novel, The Chimes, is a fusion of fantasy and romance
booksMan Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Sport
Ji So-Yun scores the only goal of the game
sport
Arts and Entertainment
One of the Pyongyang posters, the slogan of which reads: ‘Let the exploits of the northern railway conductors shine!’
art
Life and Style
Linguine with mussels and fresh tomatoes
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer