Benitez keeps European focus
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has vowed to take the Europa League seriously after being handed a tough draw against Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni in the last 32.
Like the Reds, the Romanians exited the UEFA Champions League group stages having finished third behind Sevilla and Stuttgart - and ahead of Rangers - and Benitez knows they will pose a threat. "For me it is too early [to talk about it] because we know we will play in February so we have plenty of time to prepare and learn about the other team," said the Spaniard.
"It will be tough. Unirea won the league in their country and were in a tough group with Sevilla and Stuttgart - I have some friends in Sevilla so maybe I'll be in touch with them," he went on. "But it is important to have an option to win any trophy. The Europa League is different to the Champions League but there are some good teams in it. We have to progress if we can and then it is an opportunity to win a trophy and we will try to do it.''
Fulham's incentive against Shakhtar is a glamour tie for the winner against Ajax or Juventus in the next round, while Everton's last 16 opponents would be Atletico Madrid or Galatasaray should they beat Sporting. Cottagers manager Roy Hodgson believes his side have been handed one of the toughest Europa League draws.
The Ukrainian side beat Werder Bremen in the final of Europe's second competition last season before its name and format changed this summer. Hodgson, whose side sit in ninth place in the English Premier League, is expecting a tough match. "It doesn't get much harder than playing the champions I suppose," the coach remarked. "We saw last year what a good team they are. Last year was a great success for Ukrainian football with Dinamo Kiev reaching the semi-final as well so we couldn't have asked for a much tougher draw. On the other hand we have battled hard to get through the group stage and we were hoping for a good game, an interesting game.''
Toffes back to Lisbon
Everton boss David Moyes has welcomed the prospect of a return to Lisbon in the knockout phase of the Europa League. Moyes' side were thrashed 5-0 by Benfica when they visited the Portuguese capital in the group stages of the competition in October.
Having recovered from that trip to qualify for the last 32, Everton today learned they will now play Sporting Lisbon in February. "I'm looking forward to it, back to Lisbon again," the coach said. "Last time we went there was disappointing but this time we will hopefully go there with a full team and be able to put on a better show."
In other ties, Athletic Bilbao meet Anderlecht, Marseille face FC Copenhagen, Roma take on Panathinaikos while Atletico tackle Galatasaray. PSV Eindhoven were drawn against Hamburg, Villarreal and German champions Wolfsburg face off and Valencia meet Club Brugge. Werder Bremen play FC Twente and Hertha Berlin were paired with Benfica.