Sergio gets early test as spotlight falls on Hearts' match with Spurs

 

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The Independent Football

For the first time since Raith Rovers had Bayern Munich on the ropes at the Olympic Stadium 15 years ago, the Old Firm will be overshadowed in Scotland when European week comes around after Hearts drew Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League play-off round.

The Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, has promised to play a youthful team in the competition but, with a place in the group stage at stake, is likely to ensure his team is leavened with experience to face the unpredictable Edinburgh club.

Tottenham will have only just embarked on their Premier League campaign while Hearts will be playing their seventh competitive match of the season. It will, though, be only their fourth under Paulo Sergio, assuming the ninth manager in six years under owner Vladimir Romanov lasts that long.

The Old Firm clubs have less daunting opposition. Rangers, forced to compete in the Europa League after losing to Malmo in Champions League qualifying (the expected £1.7m sale of Madjid Boughrera to Qatari side Lekhwiya underlines the financial consequences of that failure), play Maribor of Slovenia. Celtic meet Swiss side Sion.

Stoke City, enjoying their first European campaign in more than three decades, also travel to Switzerland to face Thun, who went from playing amateur football to facing Arsenal in the Champions League in a decade. That was in 2005 and Thun, whose municipality has a population of 40,000, struggled to maintain that success and were soon relegated. They have since revived and recently opened a new stadium. Arena Thun has an artificial pitch, which, as Redknapp can testify after Spurs' scare against Young Boys Berne last season, could present Tony Pulis's side with a difficult test. Moreover they have already put Palermo out this season.

Fulham, finalists in 2010, travel to Dnipro in Ukraine for a tie that pits two former Spurs managers against each other, Fulham's Martin Jol and his successor at White Hart Lane, Juande Ramos of Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. A club with a £45m annual budget, Dnipro have bolstered their team by signing Derek Boateng from Getafe for £4.3m.

Birmingham City fans, looking for a distraction from the club's financial travails and forthcoming Championship fixtures, were granted an attractive tie against Portuguese club Nacional, who are based on the tourist island of Madeira. Cristiano Ronaldo's first professional club, Nacional are a force at home beating Benfica and Sporting Lisbon last season.

One other tie with English interest is Anderlecht v Bursaspor, the Turkish club which Scott Carson now plays for. Dublin's Shamrock Rovers, the remaining Irish club, and at No 265 the lowest-ranked team in the draw under Uefa co-efficients, will do very well to get past FK Partizan.

The 38 play-off winners will join the 10 defeated sides from the Champions League play-offs in the group stage.

European draw details

Champions League

Arsenal v Udinese

First leg: 16 Aug; Second leg: 24 Aug

Europa League

Shamrock Rovers v Partizan Belgrade

Hearts v Tottenham Hotspur

Maribor v Rangers

Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk v Fulham

Sion v Celtic

Nacional Madeira v Birmingham City

FC Thun v Stoke City

First legs: 18 Aug; Second legs: 25 Aug

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