Atleti face trip into Europa unknown

Defending champions Atletico Madrid face a trip into Europa League unknown for 2012-13, whilst Levante are handed a tricky tournament debut.           

Atletico Madrid begin the defence of their trophy in Group B alongside Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Viktoria Plzen and Academica.

Atleti have never competitively faced Israelis Hapoel, Czech side Plzen nor Portuguese outfit Academica, with the latter making their first appearance in Europe for 41 years.

Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao, who won through the qualifying round yesterday with a 9-3 aggregate win over HJK Helsinki, face Champions League regulars Lyon for the first time in competitive action. Last year’s runners-up will also play twice against Czechs Sparta Praha, who they have played once before in European competition, in a two-legged Fairs Cup tie in 1970.

Isreali champions Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, who were knocked out of the Champions League qualifying round this week and are in the group stages of the Europa League for the first time, complete the group.

Levante, who are debuting in European competition, will play Dutch side Twente, competition runners-up from 1975. Hannover, who were knocked out of last year’s edition by Atletico in the quarter-finals, are also experienced opponents for Juan Ignacio Martinez’ men. Meanwhile, Group L is completed by Helsingborg, who were knocked out of the Champions League qualifying round.

Group stage fixtures will be played on Thursdays from September 20 through to December 6. This year’s final will be hosted by the Amsterdam ArenA, home to the Netherlands’ Ajax.

Full Europa League draw

Group A

Liverpool, Udinese, Young Boys, Anzhi

Group B

ATLETICO MADRID, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Viktoria Plzen, Academica

Group C

Marseille, Fenerbahce, Borussia Monchengladbach, AEL

Group D

Bordeaux, Brugge, Newcastle, Maritimo

Group E

Stuttgart, Kobenhavn, Steaua Bucharest, Molde

Group F

PSV, Napoli, Dnipro, AIK

Group G

Sporting CP, Basel, Genk, Videoton

Group H

Inter, Rubin Kazan, Partizan, Neftci

Group I

Lyon, ATHLETIC BILBAO, Sparta Praha, Hapoel Kiryat Shmona

Group J

Tottenham, Panathinaikos, Lazio, Maribor

Group K

Bayer Leverkusen, Metalist, Rosenborg, Rapid Wien

Group L

Twente, Hannover, LEVANTE, Helsingborg