Spanish teams have won the Europa League - or its precursor, the UEFA Cup - in five of the last 10 years and the country has three contenders for this season’s trophy heading into the last 16.
Two of them - Sevilla and Real Betis - have been drawn against each other, ensuring there will be a Seville derby for the first time in European competition.
The all-Italian matchup between Juventus and Fiorentina is set to be another highlight, along with Tottenham vs. Benfica.
Here are five things to know about the first legs of the Europa League’s last 16, which take place on Thursday:
SEVILLE DERBY TAKES EUROPEAN STAGE
After 86 years, one of Spain’s most explosive rivalries is finally taking place on the European stage.
Sevilla welcomes crosstown rival Real Betis to the Sanchez Pizjuan for the first leg in the 108th derby meeting between the Seville rivals, whose battles date back to the 1927/28 season.
A sometimes-violent fixture has toned down in recent seasons and neither club is in its brightest moment.
Betis remains alive in the Europa League despite sitting last in the Spanish league, and is coming off consecutive losses at Sevilla by a combined 9-1 score. Led by Croatia playmaker Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla has won four straight games in all competitions.
“If one team wins, it’s a disaster for the other, and vice versa,” Sevilla midfielder Jose Antonio Reyes said.
Valencia is the other Spanish team in the last 16, and will play Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad.
JUVE HUNGRY FOR FIORENTINA
Four days after beating Fiorentina to stay on course to retain the Serie A title, Juventus is hungry for another victory over its Italian rival - this time in the Europa League.
“Fiorentina was good for lunch,” Juventus said on the club’s official Twitter feed after a 1-0 win, “we’ll see each other again in four days, for dinner.”
Juventus is the big favorite as it sits top of the Italian standings, 27 points clear of the Viola.
The match is a repeat of the 1990 UEFA Cup final, won 3-1 on aggregate by Juve.
BRITAIN’S LAST HOPE
Tottenham’s lineup for its home match against Benfica could give an insight into which players manager Tim Sherwood will put his faith in for the rest of the season.
After conceding four second-half goals to lose 4-0 to Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday, Sherwood ripped into his squad by saying he had a “lack of characters” at his disposal and that his players “need to show a bit more guts and not want to be someone’s mate all the time.”
He didn’t name names but it will be interesting to see who remains from that match when Spurs host Benfica, which lost to Chelsea in last year’s final.
Tottenham is the last British team left in the Europa League.
EURO RESPITE FOR ANZHI
It wasn’t long ago that Anzhi Makhachkala was one of Europe’s biggest spenders, boasting the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Willian in its squad and threatening to become one of the new forces on the continent.
Those days are long gone.
In the latest chapter of the club’s riches-to-rags tale, Anzhi finds itself bottom of the Russian league with just one win from 20 matches - and that came last weekend against Rubin Kazan.
The ambitious project of billionaire backer Suleyman Kerimov has backfired, with a budget that was once $180 million per year pared down - leading to a fire sale of its biggest wage-earners.
The team still has made it through to the Europa League’s last 16, however, and is away to AZ Alkmaar in Thursday’s first leg.
SALZBURG LOSES APPEAL BEFORE BASEL MATCH
Salzburg travels to face Basel in the same week it lost a European contest for the second time this season.
The Austrian club was eliminated in the Champions League’s third qualifying round last August by Fenerbahce, which was then in the process of appealing expulsion by UEFA in a match-fixing case.
On Tuesday, UEFA said the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Salzburg’s appeal which sought reinstatement in the top-tier competition, arguing that Fenerbahce should never have been allowed to play those Champions League matches.
Salzburg joins a list of teams who have lost legal fixtures against UEFA this season, comprising Fenerbahce, Metalist Kharkiv, Besiktas and PAS Giannina.
All but Salzburg were expelled for match-fixing or financial wrongdoing.
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