Man United to face Ajax in Europa League

The often-maligned Europa League received a boost Friday when

Manchester United and Ajax were paired to face each in the other in

the Round of 32.

Ajax will host Man United on Feb. 16 in a clash of clubs who

have been European champion a combined seven times.

”It’s two teams that should have been in the Champions League

still,” Ajax commercial director Henri van der Aat told The

Associated Press. ”They (United) will be very motivated. You have

to show the world that even if you are in the Europa League, that

you can win it.”

Also, defending champion FC Porto will play Premier League

leader Manchester City as the first two matches in the draw

featured teams who joined UEFA’s second-tier competition after

exiting the Champions League.

In other matches, 2010 Europa League champion Atletico Madrid

will face Lazio, while Europe’s two highest-ranked leagues were

brought together in a Stoke-Valencia pairing.

Also, it was: Udinese vs. PAOK Thessaloniki; Locomotiv Moscow

vs. Athletic Bilbao; Viktoria Plzen vs. Schalke; Salzburg vs.

Metalist Kharkiv; Rubin Kazan vs. Olympiakos; AZ Alkmaar vs.

Anderlecht; Steaua Bucharest vs. FC Twente; Wisla Krakow vs.

Standard Liege; Braga vs. Besiktas; Trabzonspor vs. PSV Eindhoven;

Hannover vs. Club Brugge; and Legia Warsaw vs. Sporting Lisbon.

All but one of the first legs will be played Feb. 16, with the

return matches scheduled for Feb. 23 – with the exception of the

Man City-Porto match on Feb. 22.

Man City was seeded in Friday’s draw but got no luck after

placing third in the strongest Champions League group, finishing

behind Bayern Munich and Napoli.

”Porto is probably the toughest game we could have,” City

manager Roberto Mancini said. ”Manchester City against Porto feels

like a Champions League game. We know this game will be difficult,

but also it will be difficult for them.”

UEFA also drew the pairings for the last 16, which will be

played on March 8 and 15.