A day after the Champions League draw was made in Istanbul and the Bundesliga’s five participants learnt their fate, it was the turn of the Europa and Conference League entrants to discover their opponents for their European adventures this season. Can either of the German sides replicate the glory achieved by Eintracht Frankfurt last season?
After playing in the Conference League last season, Union step up to the Europa League after their fantastic finish to last seasons Bundesliga. Urs Fischer has seen his side drawn into Group D alongside Braga, Malmo and Belgian side Union St Gilloise.
Unlike last season they will be looking to make it out of the group and they have received a pretty manageable draw. Braga finished fourth last season and have started this season well with seven points from a possible nine. New signing Simon Banza from Lens has scored four goals in the opening three games, so he will be a player to watch.
Malmo won their 25th Allsvenskan title last season, but were knocked out of the Champions League qualifying stage by Lithuanian side Zalgiris. Former Werder defender Niklas Moisander is in their ranks as is ex-Leverkusen forward Isaac Kiese Thelin.
Union St Gilloise almost caused a huge upset by winning the Belgian Jupiler League. They finished five points clear at the top of the regular season, before being pipped by Club Brugge in the subsequent play-off rounds.
What they’re saying:
Oliver Ruhnert (managing director) “Group D is very interesting and varied at first glance, but it is also a difficult group. Nevertheless, there is a chance for us to spend the winter in the Europa League. We will enjoy every game and look forward to the other clubs.”
Christopher Trimmel: “For me it’s a good group because the destinations Belgium, Portugal and Sweden are very beautiful. Malmö is also interesting for everyone at the club because of their fan friendship.”
Ahead of their Friday night Bundesliga clash with Bochum, all eyes were temporarily on the Europa League draw in Breisgau as Freiburg were drawn in group G alongside Olympiakos, Azerbaijan champions Qarabag and Nantes.
A red-hot atmosphere will await the Breisgauer in Piraeus when they face the Greek side at the Karaiskaki Stadium. They dropped into the Europa League after being eliminated from the Champions League qualifiers by Maccabi Haifa. Familiar faces to the Bundesliga such as BVB defender Sokratis and Mainz midfielder Pierre Kunde. There is quite a trek with the away match against Qarabag, while a trip to Nantes in France is a lot closer to home.
Christian Streich’s side will not fear the draw and on paper could and should be favourites to finish top of the group.
What they’re saying:
Jochen Saier (sporting director): “The group that was drawn to us is also interesting because we haven’t had any contact with the locations where we play. Piraeus is a great, emotional city with its cauldron. A special atmosphere awaits us in Nantes and Baku as well, although the trip to Azerbaijan obviously poses a major organizational challenge for us and our fans.”
Back in Europe for the first time since … and certain to take a huge away following wherever they go Köln have been drawn in group D alongside Partizan from Belgrade, Nice, and Czech side Slovácko.
The Serbian side from the capital finished as runners-up to Crvena Zvezda last season in the Super Liga. The two sides have only met in Europe once before way back in the 1974-75 when the Geißböcke won 5-2 on aggregate in the Uefa Cup round of 16. Köln would lose to eventual winners Mönchenglach in the semi-finals.
Lucien Favre’s Nice will provide interesting and challenging opposition. They have quality players such as Kasper Dolberg, Aarom Ramsey, Kasper Schmeichel and Marcus Thuram’s younger brother Khéphren Thuram.
What is known about Czech minnows Slovácko could probably be written on one side of a Kölsch beer mat. They won the Czech Cup for the first time in the club’s history last season after defeating Sparta Prague 3–1 with goals from Václav Jurečka and Petr Reinberk who scored twice.
What they’re saying:
Steffen Baumgart: “We’ve been working for it for a long time, it’s the culmination of last season. We are happy that we took the last step yesterday. Belgrade and Nice are of course famous names. The atmosphere will be pretty good too. We already know that difficult tasks await us. We should approach it with due respect and reverence. Our fans will be excited about the duels just like we are. We want nice, peaceful games and a successful group phase.”
Christian Keller (managing director): “We are happy that we can play internationally again. Almost everyone here didn’t care who they were against. Of course they have become attractive opponents. With Nice we have an opponent from one of the top five leagues in Europe, they are strong opponents. The games against Belgrade will definitely be hot-blooded. Playing in the Czech Republic will also be an experience. Not only are we excited about the away games, we are also really looking forward to the three home games.”