The big boys who have fallen from the Champions League group stage | inside World Soccer


The big boys who have fallen from the Champions League group stage

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Europa League round of 32 is where things start to get interesting. Not only is it a cut-throat knockout competition where only the best will progress, but the third-placed teams from the Champions League enter the fray.

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It’s a time when UEFA Europa League betting odds will change, with the early favourites maybe not quite so fancied after all – especially with the big boys joining.

This season’s Champions League group stage has been a battle to the end with teams fighting for their place in the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier club competition. But for these eight, the Europa League beckons and they live to fight another day for silverware.

Club Brugge

Despite not winning any of their Champions League games in Group A, the Belgian outfit have transferred to the Europa League after three draws. Brugge have been finalists in both tiers of the competition, but on both occasions were runners-up. Last season, they were knocked out of the Europa League round of 32 by Red Bull Salzburg.

Olympiacos

A win for the Greek side over Red Star Belgrade in matchday six secured their place in the Europa League. Their best ever finish was reaching the quarter-final of the 1998-99 Champions League. However, more recently, they’ve flitted between both of Europe’s club competitions – losing in the Europa League round of 32 last term.

Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar have transferred from Group C, having lost their final game to Atalanta. They first entered European competition during the 1976-77 season and have participated in every campaign since 1997. The Ukrainian club won their first and only title in 2009’s UEFA Cup, beating Werder Bremen in the final in Istanbul. Last season, Shakhtar lost to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League round of 32.

Bayer Leverkusen

Bayer finished third in Group D and consequently dropped down to Europe’s second-string competition. The German club were UEFA Cup winners in 1987-88 and Champions League runners-up in 2001-02. They too have flitted between both tournaments over the years and after not participating in either during the 2017-18 season, Bayer lost to Krasnodar in the Europa League round of 32 last term, on away goals.

Red Bull Salzburg

Group E was too tough for the Austrians who finished third, five points behind Napoli. Under their previous name, Austria Salzburg, the club were UEFA Cup finalists, losing to Inter Milan in 1993-94. More recently, Salzburg have had mixed fortunes in Europe. After being dumped out of the Champions League in the third qualifying round of the 2017-18 competition, the squad excelled in the second-tier tournament, reaching the semi-finals. Last season, they lost once again to Napoli, this time in the Europa League round of 16.

Inter Milan

Group F was strong, with Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund progressing and Internazionale transferring to the Europa League – but they are now among the favourites to win the competition. The Italian giants have a rich history in Europe, with three European Cup/Champions League titles and three UEFA Cup titles to their name, as well as three runner-up finishes. Last season, Inter crashed out of their Champions League group, before losing to Frankfurt in the Europa League round of 16.

Benfica

Benfica transferred to the Europa League on head-to-head goal difference over Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg. Both sides finished on seven points, one behind Lyon. The Lisbon outfit won back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and ’62, and last made a Europa League final in 2014, when they lost to Sevilla. Last season, they played in both European competitions, transferring to the second-tier tournament at the knockout stages. They too lost to Frankfurt in the quarter-finals, sadly on away goals.

Ajax

Ajax had a wonder-run in last season’s Champions League, eventually being knocked out by runners-up Tottenham Hotspur in the semis. There were high hopes for the Dutch champions again this campaign, but they lost to group winners Valencia in their final game of Group H and dropped down to the Europa League. Ajax were runners-up to Manchester United in the 2016-17 final, which could bode well. However, in 2017-18, they failed to qualify for either European competition.

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