Europa League focus on Everton FC and Liverpool FC: Can Mersey giants wow Hamburg again?
Europa League focus on Everton FC and Liverpool FC: Can Mersey giants wow Hamburg again? WITH 16 European Cup wins and a total of 32 final appearances in club football's elite competition between them, the field in the knockout stages of this season's inaugural Europa League is a strong one. While the financial riches of Champions League football ensure the competition formerly known as the UEFA Cup remains the 'bridesmaid' tournament when it comes to continental combat, the pedigree of many participants cannot be questioned. The most decorated side is of course Liverpool with five European Cup successes - plus three victories in this trophy's previous guise - and Rafael Benitez's side have been installed a 7/1 favourites. Although the Anfield outfit are still smarting from their first pre-Christmas exit of the Champions League under the Spaniard's stewardship, the Europa League provides the most realistic opportunity for Benitez, who won the competition with Valencia immediately before his arrival on these shores in 2004, to end his four-year trophy drought. Many on the Kop might not currently have much of an appetite for the fare on offer after dining at the European game's top table for so long but nobody associated with the club was flippant about their 2001 success under Gerard Houllier which completed a cup treble that season. And given the abundance of other big names and 'fallen giants' this term, going all the way would complete a reversal in fortunes in what has been a troubled campaign on and off the pitch. Rated at 25/1, Everton, who given their position in the Premier League remain unsure when they'll be back in European competition again next term after three successive seasons in this tournament, will also be hoping to have an extended run. Long-term injury absentees are finally starting to creep back to fitness at Goodison Park but given the abundance of heavyweight contenders taking part, David Moyes, now approaching his eighth anniversary in charge of Everton and still awaiting his first piece of team silverware, will be hoping he isn't left to rue his side's last 16 exit in 2008, when a Zenit St Petersburg outfit his troops had overcome in the group stage lifted the cup by beating a Rangers side led by his predecessor Walter Smith - just down the road in Manchester too. Moyes declared ahead of last season's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United that Everton would win a trophy soon but until that day comes, such missed opportunities could continue to haunt the Scot. Supporters of red and blue alike will undoubtedly be relishing the prospect of going to a cup final in the vibrant northern German port of Hamburg. Apart from the shared maritime heritage of both the host city and Liverpool plus the Kevin Keegan and Thomas Gravesen links to our clubs, Hamburg is famously the place where The Beatles first became international stars through their residency in the early 1960s. An all-Merseyside final is a 40/1 shot with the climax of the tournament on May 12 at the Volksparkstadion, now officially known as the HSH Nordbank Arena.
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