Ramos continues hunt for UEFA Cup

Updated on Feb 12, 2008 09:55 PM IST
The Spanish coach is now in charge of one of six former champions in action when European soccer's second-tier club competition resumes with 16 matches.
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AP | By, London

Juande Ramos continues his attempt to win an unprecedented third straight UEFA Cup this week when he takes Tottenham to Slavia Prague.

The Spanish coach, who guided Sevilla to the title the past two seasons, is now in charge of one of six former champions in action when European soccer's second-tier club competition resumes after a two-month break with 16 matches.

Anderlecht, Galatasaray, Bayer Leverkusen and PSV Eindhoven are all playing Wednesday, while Bayern Munich and Tottenham play the first game of their two-legged matches Thursday.

PSV is also one of eight teams entering the tournament after being eliminated from the group stage of the Champions League, with Marseille, Rosenborg, Werder Bremen, Benfica, Rangers, Sporting Lisbon and Slavia Prague the others.

Two-time champion Tottenham was in danger of being drawn against a Champions League team because it failed to win its group after a poor start under coach Martin Jol.

But Ramos already has the experience of facing Slavia this season, taking Sevilla to a 4-2 win before replacing Jol in October. He has since lifted the English team up the Premier League standings and into the League Cup final, and turned Tottenham into what looks like a genuine contender for the UEFA Cup.

"The results are picking up and the performances are getting better," Spurs midfielder Tom Huddlestone said.

Ramos may have to juggle his defensive resources Thursday, with fullback Alan Hutton ineligible, captain Ledley King still recovering from a long-term knee problem and center half Michael Dawson out for as long as three weeks.

"It's one of those typical things that happens in football all the time," Ramos said of Dawson's injury. "We think it's a muscle tear, how bad we don't know until we have a proper look at him." That means Younes Kaboul or Huddlestone could play in the middle alongside Jonathan Woodgate, with the same pairing a possibility for the second leg at White Hart Lane next week.

Bayer Leverkusen and Galatasaray meet in Istanbul, Anderlecht hosts Bordeaux, and PSV hosts Helsingborg.

Helsingborg veteran Henrik Larsson, his teammate Razak Omotoyossi and Bayern Munich striker Luca Toni are tied at the top of the tournament scoring charts ahead of the midweek matches, with Toni looking most likely to add to his tally when his club plays at Aberdeen on Thursday.

Also Wednesday, Villarreal is at Zenit St. Petersburg, Getafe is at AEK Athens, Everton is at SK Brann, Braga is at Werder Bremen, Spartak Moscow is at Marseille, Panathinaikos is at Rangers, and FC Basel is at Sporting.

FC Zurich hosts Hamburg, Rosenborg hosts Fiorentina, Bolton hosts Atletico Madrid, and Benfica hosts FC Nuremburg in Thursday's other matches.

Bolton has reduced ticket prices for its meeting with the Spanish powerhouse, and is hoping for a record club attendance in the UEFA Cup.

"It promises to be a cracking atmosphere at the Reebok," Bolton manager Gary Megson said.

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