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Stuart Dalgleish 16th Sep 2009 - 15:35

Europa League week one – British chances

The UEFA Cup kicks off on Thursday under the new name of the UEFA Europa League and three British teams are in action.

Hapoel Tel Aviv v Celtic

Tony Mowbray's team will really fancy their chances of getting through to the knockout stage after landing themselves in a group with Hamburger (11/1 to win the competition), Rapid Vienna (100/1) and their opening match opponents Hapoel Tel Aviv (150/1).

The Bhoys, as ever, find themselves neck and neck with Rangers at the top of the SPL after winning three and drawing one of their opening four games, and what's more they finally seem to have got over their terrible European away record having won in Moscow to make it through to the play-off round of the Champions League - unfortunately for Celtic they then came unstuck against a dominant Arsenal side so will have to make do with the Europa League rather than the millions that the CL brings you.

The home team are 8/5 to get their campaign off to a winning start, the draw is available at 21/10 - which with back-to-back games at Parkhead to come you have to think Mowbray's outfit would be happy with, while Celtic are 7/5 to get all three points and 40/1 to go all the way and win the cup in May.

While defeat would obviously be far from ideal, Celtic's home record in recent European campaigns has been outstanding with the likes of Manchester United and AC Milan both leaving Glasgow with their tails between their legs, so the other group opponents will know they're in for a battle when they visit Celtic Park.

CSKA Sofia v Fulham

I have to hold my hands up and say I just haven't been able to call Fulham so far this season; I thought with their performances over the last few year's against Chelsea they might be able to cause their neighbours problems, but in the end it was a stroll in the park for Carlo Ancelotti's team in their recent derby match.

Then I was of the opinion that when they welcomed Everton to Craven Cottage that they would struggle against some of the Toffees' new signings - that went out the window when they didn't even start two of them! Everton ended up performing poorly in the 2nd half as Fulham turned the match around to win 2-1.

The Cottagers (33/1 to lift the trophy), like Celtic, should be confident of progressing to the next phase of this year's Europa League in only their second European campaign, it's more than likely they will be looking at runners-up spot behind joint favourites Roma (10/1) - but if they can get something from their trip to Bulgaria it will stand them in good stead for successive games in London against Basel and the Italians.

It won't be easy for Roy Hodgson's side, as while CSKA are outsiders for this competition at 200/1, they have made a flying start to their Bulgarian league season, winning four games and drawing one, scoring 14 goals in the process and not allowing any in at the other end.

The hosts are 13/8 to continue their impressive start to the season with another win, the draw is a 23/10 shot and Fulham are 13/8 to get an away win.

Everton v AEK Athens

David Moyes' side have had a disappointing start to the season and currently find themselves in the bottom three of the Premier League having only won one of their first four games, to make matters worse their captain Phil Neville has suffered damaged knee ligaments and faces some considerable time on the treatment table.

A decent run in Europe would lift spirits around Merseyside and they look like getting through to the knockout stage at the very least, a decent draw after the group stage could see them be serious contenders to lift the trophy (14/1) should the rest of their squad stay injury free.

They're certainly serious contenders to win this match, with the hosts priced at 8/15 to get the three points, the draw is a 14/5 chance and the visiting Greeks are big odds at 11/2 to cause a tragedy for Everton and emerge with a win.

A problem for the Toffees (in this game anyway) could be at right-back; Tony Hibbert is suspended after getting sent off in the qualifying round, Neville as mentioned is out injured and Johnny Heitinga has already played for Atletico Madrid in Europe this season so is ineligible; the noises coming out of Goodison Park are that teenage midfielder Dan Gosling will slot in to the vacant position having played there on a few occasions at his previous club Plymouth Argyle.



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