DAVID SMITH - Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday afternoon saw the pairing of teams for the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, with a tough task awaiting Clint Dempsey and Fulham if they hope to stay in the competition.
After navigating through the group stage to reach the final 32, Clint Dempsey and his Fulham compatriots have earned a tough matchup for their first-ever knockout round series, with reigning UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk awaiting in February.
The Cottagers secured passage in the last game of the group stage in beating out Basel on the final matchday, while the Ukrainian team flew through group J, already securing their place in the knockout round after easily winning their first four games.
Should they find a way past Shakhtar, they will face the winner of the series between Ajax Amsterdam and Juventus.
Tim Howard and Landon Donovan's Everton have been paired with Portuguese team Sporting CP after finishing runners-up in Group I.
While having never lifted a cup in European competition, the Portuguese team came within one game in the 2004-05 UEFA Cup when they were beaten in the final by CSKA Moscow. In this current competition, they finished atop a relatively weak Group D, with their only loss coming in their meaningless finale against Hertha Berlin.
The winner of this home-and-home series will next have to navigate either Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray.
The round of 32 kicks off on February 18 with each of the two English teams at home, with their respective away games set for one week later on February 25.
The draw for the Europa League and Champions League also included several teams with Americans on the books, who will however not likely play any role for their teams.
AC Milan's Oguchi Onyewu will still be recovering from his knee injury as the Rossoneri host last year's finalists Manchester United in the Champions League's round of 16. Milan host the Red Devils on February 16 and will travel to Old Trafford on March 10.
Club Brugge's Jared Jeffrey has not yet featured in his team's roster throughout the Europa League and will likely continue to be a spectator as they square off against Spanish club Valencia CF, wile Bryan Arguez will no longer be a part of Hertha Berlin's team as they will do battle with Portuguese powerhouse Benfica. Freddy Adu is currently on-loan to Portuguese club Belenenses and will not play any part for Benfica.
(teams listed on left host the first leg)
Europa League round of 32 (February 18/25)
Fulham - Shakhtar Donetsk
Everton - Sporting CP
Club Brugge - Valencia CF
Hertha Berlin - SL Benfica
Champions League round of 16 (February 16/March 10)
AC Milan - Manchester United