DAVID SMITH - Thursday, February 17, 2011
Maurice Edu will hope to work Rangers midfield against Portuguese team Sporting while Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht will hope to hold of Dutch neighbors Ajax as the Europa League round of 32 gets underway.
RSC Anderlecht - Ajax Amsterdam
Sacha Kljestan will hope to see minutes for Anderlecht on Thursday evening when they host northern neighbors Ajax Amsterdam in the home leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie.
Anderlecht squeaked through Group G to the knockout round by edging out Greek team AEK on goal differential, and now face the tough task of dealing with the four-time European champions Ajax.
Their Dutch opponents reached the competition by finishing third in their Champions League group behind AC Milan and Real Madrid, and will be looking to add yet another European trophy to their stocked cabinet.
With barely 150 miles separating Amsterdam and Brussels, the series is practically a derby for both teams, although they have only met on a pair of occasions in official UEFA competitions. This came during the group stage in last year's edition of the competition, with Anderlecht holding the edge with 3-1 win in Amsterdam to go along with the 1-1 draw at their own home stadium.
Kljestan has fallen off the depth chart as of late for Ariël Jacobs' team, however could see time on the field as the team is in the thick of a battle for the domestic league title.
The hosts are reporting to injuries or suspensions to their squad. Ajax are also reporting a full squad, although they are now forced to make do without former star players Urby Emanuelson and Luis Suarez, both of whom departed the team during the January transfer window.
Rubin Kazan - FC Twente Enschede
Oguchi Onyewu and Twente face an ice-cold encounter in Moscow against Russian opponents Rubin Kazan on Thursday afternoon.
The game was moved from Rubin's home ground of Tsentralnyi Stadion 500 miles west to Spartak's Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, as a severe cold snap in Russia has necessitated the use of the artificial turf.
Temperatures close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit await the players at kickoff, which should normally lead to a postponement by UEFA regulations, and could make for an ugly encounter rife with potential injuries.
Both teams finished third in their respective Champions League groups, making this one of the more marquee matchups of this stage of the competition.
Twente have lately made a charge to the top of the Eredivisie standings, where they are tied with leaders Eindhoven on points but just trailing by goal differential.
Kazan, who are still in the off-season awaiting the start of league play, will be without defender Roman Sharonov and midfielder Aleksandr Ryazantsev who are being held out due to the cold.
Twente go into the game without injured forward Marc Janko and defender Dwight Tiendalli.
Glasgow Rangers - Sporting Lisbon
Maurice Edu will likely take the field for Rangers on Thursday evening when they host Portuguese rivals Sporting Lisbon.
The American midfielder has been a regular in Walter Smith's starting lineups over recent weeks, and could again be counted on for 90 minutes as the team tries to navigate a total of four competitions.
The Glasgow team finished in a comfortable third place in their Champions League group behind Manchester United and Valencia although well ahead of last-placed Bursaspor, and will like their chances against a Portuguese team which has yet to find a way to defeat their Scottish counterparts in four attempts.
The two teams faced off in the 2008 UEFA Cup quarterfinal with Rangers easily passing on a 2-0 aggregate, and have won three out of the four total meetings with a Cup Winners' Cup draw in 1971 being the only blemish on their record.
Sporting looked strong in their Europa League group, cruising to first place with four wins out of six, and were the fourth leading scorers in that stage of the competition.
The will see former Rangers favorite Pedro Mendes making a return to the stadium which he called home for two seasons, and will surely receive a warm welcome from the crowd at Ibrox.
The hosts will be without a pair of regular contributors as forward Nikica Jelavic is ineligible for the competition having already played in the qualification stages with Rapid Vienna, and midfielder Lee McCulloch is out for awhile after undergoing knee surgery. Additionally, forward Steven Naismith is questionable with a slight hamstring injury.
Sporting will be without injured midfielder Jaime Valdes and defender Leandro Grimi, however forward Yannick Djalo returns to the lineup after missing time with a thigh problem.