KUALA LUMPUR – Five head-to-head matches between sides that won on opening day highlight a full slate of Europa League matches across Europe Thursday. But the competition remains controversial as Swiss club FC Sion remain in court to get these results thrown out and itself reinstated.
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The Sion case continues to cast a pall over the tournament, with the Swiss club arguing UEFA had no right to eject it after it beat Glasgow Celtic in the qualifying rounds. The case is not as straightforward as it might seem: Sion were bounced for fielding ineligible players in their games against Celtic and have lost a number of cases at sports judicial courts over the matter.
Soccer clubs are not allowed by UEFA or FIFA statute to challenge these decisions in civil court. Sion has flouted that, pointing out that UEFA sits on Swiss soil and is thus subject to that country's laws -- and, in what came as a shock to UEFA, had a judge agree with them. (In fact, the Swiss league registered the six players in question pending a CAS decision.)
Tuesday, Sion's lawyers claimed that the club could be reinstated when UEFA's lawyers conceded it would be technically feasible to allow them to join the competition in the January break.
However, the judge in the case postponed her judgment for a week meaning that today's Celtic-Udinese fixture will go ahead as planned. Sion have also appealed to the CAS, sport's supreme court, but no timetable has been set for that decision.
On the field, the match of the day could be in Spain, where Athletic Bilbao will be home to a resurgent and new wealthy Paris St. Germain. Both teams figure to qualify out of Group F, but PSG will be looking to continue their successful start with an impressive performance on the road.
The other matches featuring first day winners are Rapid Bucharest vs. PSV Eindhoven, Metalist Kharkiv vs. AZ Alkmaar (home of striker Jozy Altidore) Sporting Braga vs. Club Brugge and Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Anderlecht (home of Sacha Kljestan).
While the pairings of sides with three points will take center stage, there are some interesting tests for the big clubs in this competition, especially the English Premier teams, none of whom started with three points on the first match day.
Tottenham Hotspur should remedy that with a home game against rank outsiders Shamrock Rovers, whose mere appearance at this stage in a European tournament was a major achievement for the Irish League side.
Shamrock were waxed by Rubin in a game that was far more one-sided than the 3-0 final scoreline indicates. Stoke City, which got a 1-1 draw against Dynamo in Kiev on opening day, will hope to build on the form that ended Manchester United's perfect run Sunday when they host Besiktas Istanbul. The Turks come to the Brittania having opened with a victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv and the game is expected to be a tense, physical clash.
Fulham, held on opening day by FC Twente (and scoreless on the weekend by lowly WBA) will make the trip to Denmark to face OB Odense. The Danes won its first match against Wisla Krakow but still will be regarded as an underdog against Clint Dempsey's side.
The pressure will be on Birmingham City, which qualified by winning the Carling Cup but has badly struggled out of the gate this season. They make the trip to Slovenia to face Maribor hoping to rebound from a comprehensive 3-1 defeat at home to Braga. Similarly, Celtic, has a major challenge at home against Udinese, one of two perfect sides in that group; the other, Atletico Madrid, will look to follow up its win over Celtic when they go to Rennes.
Other Americans in action include Steve Cherundolo, whose Hannover 96 team goes to Vorskla Poltava after drawing on opening day and Sporting Lisbon's Oguchi Onyewu, which hosts Lazio in what might actually be the best pairing of the round. Sporting won its opener while the Serie A side drew.