Terry McDermott, the Newcastle United assistant manager, has a reputation for being a joker but he was being serious yesterday when he described the Magpies' "Group of Death" Uefa Cup draw as "not daunting".
Given Newcastle were among the top seeds they were handed almost the most difficult draw they could have received. Only if they had had to travel to Istanbul to meet Fenerbahce, rather than host the Turks at St James' Park, could it have been harder.
Three teams qualify from the five-team groups and McDermott said: "There's two home games and two away games, and if you win your home games you'd expect to qualify." The Uefa Cup has become devalued by the dominance and quality of the Champions' League and the teams Newcastle have played to get this far would figure on the radar of only the most dedicated Euro-anorak. In Fenerbahce, Palermo, Celta Vigo and Eintracht Frankfurt, Newcastle get to test themselves against recognisable, even glamorous, opposition. Palermo, who knocked out West Ham United in the qualifiers, have members of Italy's World Cup-winning squad in their team. Frankfurt were the other team in the legendary 1960 European Cup final, losing 7-3 to Real Madrid at Hampden Park, Vigo and Fenerbahce have recent Champions' League experience.
Tottenham, unsurprisingly given they were in the last seeding pool, also have a tough draw, andhave to go to Istanbul. Their opponents there will be Besiktas, now coached by the former Fulham manager Jean Tigana. They then host Bayer Leverkusen, the 2002 European Cup finalists from whom they signed the £10m striker Dimitar Berbatov this summer. Club Bruges and Dinamo Bucharest make up the quintet. To Spurs' relief they will not have to go to Romania. "It will be an exciting journey for us," said Martin Jol, Tottenham's manager. "I think we have done OK, we have Bruges at home and if we can get a good result in that it would set us up for the difficult trip to Leverkusen."
Blackburn, still searching for their first away win in European competition after five previous campaigns, open with a visit to Poland to play Wisla Krakow. They also travel to Feyenoord, the Rovers midfielder Brett Emerton's old club, and host Basle and Nancy.
Rangers play Auxerre, Livorno, Partizan Belgrade and Maccabi Haifa. The fixture computer has been kind, their away trips are to France, which will please the coach Paul Le Guen, and Italy, not Israel and Serbia.
The British clubs will be happy to have avoided the holders Sevilla, plus Ajax, AZ Alkmaar and Panathinaikos. Bruce Rioch, the former Arsenal and Bolton manager now coaching Odense in Denmark, also evaded them but still landed a tough draw in group D.
The 24 qualifiers will be joined in the post-Christmas knock-out stages by the eight clubs who finish third in their Champions League' groups.
Uefa Cup group stage draw and fixtures
Fixtures: 19 October: Livorno (It) v Rangers. 2 November: Rangers v Maccabi Haifa (Isr); 23 November: Auxerre (Fr) v Rangers; 14 December: Rangers v Partizan Belgrade (Serb).
Fixtures: 19 Octoberober: Besiktas (Tur) v Tottenham; 2 November: Tottenham v Club Bruges (Bel); 23 November: Bayer Leverkusen (Ger) v Tottenham; 14 December: Tottenham v Dinamo Bucharest (Rom).
Fixtures: 19 October: Wisla Krakow (Pol) v Blackburn; 2 November: Blackburn v Basle (Swit); 23 November: Feyenoord (Neth) v Blackburn; 13 December: Blackburn v AS Nancy (Fr).
Fixtures: 19 October: Newcastle v Fenerbahce (Tur); 2 November: Palermo (It) v Newcastle; 23 November: Newcastle v Celta Vigo (Sp); 30 November: Eintracht Frankfurt (Ger) v Newcastle.
GROUP C Seville, AZ Alkmaar, Slovan Liberec, Grasshoppers, Braga.
GROUP D Parma, Lens, Heerenveen, Osasuna, Odense BK.
GROUP F Ajax, Sparta Prague, Espanyol, Austria Magna, Zulte Wagerem.
GROUP G Panathinaikos, Paris St-Germain, Rapid Bucharest, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Mlada Boleslav.Reuse content