For Swansea,almost a home tie at Valencia

Kazakhstan will be represented for the first time through Shakhter Karagandy,which lost to Glasgow Celtic in the final qualifying round.

Written by Associated Press | Manchester | Published:September 19, 2013 3:41 am

The Europa League returns on Thursday with the first round of matches in the group stage. From the 48 teams starting out,27 countries will be represented — a record for the competition.

Kazakhstan will be represented for the first time through Shakhter Karagandy,which lost to Glasgow Celtic in the final qualifying round in the Champions League. Russia,Spain,England,Ukraine,Belgium and Portugal will all have three sides each.

Wigan Athletic is one of four teams — along with Estoril (Portugal),Kuban Krasnodar (Russia) and CS Pandurii Targu Jiu (Romania) — taking part in their first European campaigns after surprisingly winning the FA Cup in England last season. However,it will be competing out of the second tier of English football after getting relegated from the Premier League. That’s nothing new for England,though — Millwall was at the same level when the London team took its place in the UEFA Cup in the 2004-05 campaign as a reward for being the beaten finalists in the FA Cup the previous season.

When Swansea travels to Valencia for arguably the standout match of the league’s first round,it could end up being like a home match for the English Premier League team.

Swansea manager Michael Laudrup took the number of Spanish players in his squad to seven by signing Alejandro Pozuelo,Jose Canas and Jordi Amat in the offseason. The only player in the club’s Spanish contingent who won’t be travelling to the Mestalla will be Pablo Hernandez,a former Valencia player,who misses out with a hamstring injury.

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