Athenians will be looking ahead to 21 October with a certain trepidation following yesterday's draw for the new group stage of the Uefa Cup .
Athenians will be looking ahead to 21 October with a certain trepidation following yesterday's draw for the new group stage of the Uefa Cup - for Middlesbrough and Newcastle are due to play there the same night, leading to the prospect of a city full of Geordies and Teessiders.
Newcastle will be paying a visit to Panonios in Group D while in Group E, Middlesbrough will be entertained by Egaleo - although the highlight of their group campaign will be the visit of Lazio.
Under the new, unfamiliar format, which involves groups of five, with each team playing four games, two at home and two away, Steve McClaren's side will also entertain Partizan Belgrade. In a tough group, their other fixture involves a visit to last season's semi-finalists, the Spanish side Villarreal.
Middlesbrough will still have high hopes of progressing, while Newcastle should have little to fear in Group D with home matches against Sporting Lisbon and Dinamo Tbilisi from Georgia, and trips to the French club Sochaux as well as their Greek visit.
Boro will be aided by inside knowledge of Lazio through their Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, who became the sixth most expensive player in the world when he signed for the Rome side from Valencia for £29m in 2001. Since then, Lazio have gone belly-up financially and have struggled to remain afloat but have had a reasonable start to this Serie A campaign with players such as Paolo di Canio enjoying a swansong to his career.
Middlesbrough's chief executive Keith Lamb admitted they had been given a stiff test. "It's a tough group but the game against Banik Ostrava in the last round was difficult and we came through," he said. "I think we are strong enough to look favourably on the draw. We signed Gaizka Mendieta from Lazio, so he will be looking forward to showing them what they are missing.
"Villarreal did well last season while Partizan Belgrade knocked Newcastle out of the Champions' League a couple of seasons ago, so we have to see if we can go one better."
Newcastle have already experienced Sporting Lisbon's strength, having been beaten 1-0 by the Portuguese side in a pre-season competition. Russell Cushing, their chief operating officer, said: "It's a very competitive group. We know about Sporting Lisbon, having played against them in the Newcastle Gateshead Cup two months ago, whilst Sochaux did very well in the UEFA Cup last season, beating Borussia Dortmund 6-2 on aggregate before going out to Internazionale on the away goals rule.
"It's a wide-ranging group in respect of where the teams are located around Europe, but in terms of the home and away draw, well I think it has been pretty kind to us although there are, of course, no easy games in the Uefa Cup."
Rangers, who like Newcastle were top seeds in yesterday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland, will also be confident of going through from Group F. Their two toughest opponents, Auxerre of France and the Austrian side AK Graz, will both travel to Ibrox while the away games are against Amica Wronki of Poland and AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.
Hearts will be up against it in Group A with difficult trips to play Ruud Gullit's Feyenoord side, and then Basle, the Swiss side coached by the former Spurs manager Christian Gross, who have done well against British sides in recent years. Their opponents at home will be Ferencvaros, Millwall's Hungarian conquerors in the last round, and Schalke, perennial strong performers in Europe.Reuse content