Former European champs Ajax, Celtic grouped in Europa League
MONACO (AP) — Former European champions Ajax and Celtic were drawn together with Fenerbahce and Molde in the Europa League groups on Friday.
“There are three big teams in this group,” said Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar, counting Fenerbahce which signed his former Netherlands teammate Robin van Persie from Manchester United in the offseason.
Liverpool, which won the title three times in the old UEFA Cup format, returns to European competition after a one-year absence in a group with top-seeded Rubin Kazan, plus Bordeaux and Sion.
Tottenham and Anderlecht, finalists in the 1984 UEFA Cup won by the English club, meet again in a tough group. Monaco was a Champions League quarterfinalist last season and lost a playoff in the top-tier competition this week, while newcomer Qarabag of Azerbaijan completes the group.
Borussia Dortmund also will travel to Azerbaijan, to face Qabala, in a group that includes PAOK and Krasnodar.
Basel, which hosts the final in May, also dropped into the Europa League from the Champions League playoffs. It will reunite with former coach Paulo Sousa, who joined Fiorentina in the offseason. The group also includes Lech Poznan and Belenenses.
Sporting Lisbon must return to Moscow where it exited the Champions League playoffs against CSKA. Sporting will now play Locomotive Moscow, and has further long trips east to play Besiktas and Skenderbeu.
The 12 groups drawn Friday will start six rounds of matches on Sept. 17.
The top two finishers advance to the last-32 knockout round in February, which includes eight third-placed teams from the Champions League groups.
For the second season, UEFA offers the incentive of a place in next season’s Champions League to the Europa League winner.
Sevilla skips the chance of a third straight Europa League title to contest the top-tier competition.