If you didn’t have the time to watch the Europa League draw, you might find yourself wondering just how it all turned out.
Well, the balls were taken from the bowls and some numbers were read out and the ceremony was all a bit flash, as is UEFA tradition. But now you’re wondering, just who will Fiorentina be facing this year? How will I be spending my Thursday evenings? Who is the third best team in Norway and how do I pronounce their name? Is the group stage some sort of extended modern art project on the meaningless of contemporary life? Can we take a competition seriously if it has a 'Group L'?
Let’s find out.
The full draw can be viewed here:
As you can see, that places Fiorentina firmly in the mighty Group I.
Along with La Viola are FC Basel, Lech Poznań, and C.F. Os Belenenses.
One of the biggest points of interest will be the return of Paulo Sousa to his former club, Basel. Arriving from the Swiss side this summer, Sousa will barely have had time to unpack before he’s schlepping off to Switzerland once again. As the reigning champions in the Swiss Super League, Sousa saw his side knocked out of the Champions League last year after beating Liverpool in the group stages. They’ve got a legitimate aging war horse in the form of Walter Samuel and regular readers might recognize the name Taulant Xhaka, with whom Fiorentina were linked this summer.
Lech Poznań are the current Polish champions. Perhaps their biggest contribution to modern football is the dance known as the Poznań, wherein a crowd at the game will turn away from the pitch, link arms around one another’s shoulders and jump up and down. After Lech Poznań played Manchester City in 2010, the British club brought the move back to Blighty and it soon spread like wildfire across the footballing cultural landscape. Lech Poznań are one of the best supported clubs in Poland and play their football in the INEA Stadion, Poznań.
Belenenses will also be playing in the group. They finished sixth in last season’s Portuguese league and have already played and beaten both Göteborg and Altach to get this far. They once had a player named David Byrne but he was in no way connected to the David Byrne of seminal music outfit, Talking Heads. Based in the Belém part of Lisbon, their stadium is named the Estádio do Restelo and holds almost twenty thousand people.
In all, the draw seems to have gone quite well. Most of the tricky teams are in other groups, there’s something that’s almost like an interesting story in Sousa returning to Basel, tiring journeys to Ukraine and Kazakhstan have been avoided, and trips to Poland and Portugal mean only having to browse through the ‘P’ section in your local travel agent’s catalog, saving you valuable seconds.
The UEFA head honchos will now gather together in a dark room before unleashing the full schedule on the world.
Can Fiorentina top the group?
Can they advance further into the competition?
Can they even win it?
Will I be looking back on these closing sentences with a twang of hubris as my confidence and arrogance come back to haunt me?