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Sunday, June 20, 2004 

Intertoto Cup kicks off

The 2004/05 European club season gets under way this weekend when 42 teams line up for the first round of the UEFA Intertoto Cup.

UEFA Cup chance
In total, 61 teams representing 44 of UEFA's 52 member associations will take part in the competition, all aiming to secure one of the three UEFA Cup berths that the competition carries. The 19 sides not participating in the opening round this Saturday and Sunday will enter the fray in either the second or third rounds.

Villarreal achievement
All will be hoping to emulate the achievement of Villarreal CF, one of last year's three Intertoto winners who subsequently went all the way to the UEFA Cup semi-finals where they lost 1-0 on aggregate to Valencia CF, domestic rivals and eventual winners.

On-form Cork
Eight of the 21 weekend matches will take place on Saturday, with the pick of the draw seemingly taking place in Sweden with the 1979 European Champion Clubs' Cup finalists, Malmö FF against Cork City FC. After a disappointing start to the current Irish Premier Division season, Cork are in form and are now unbeaten in ten games.

Spartak host minnows
Sunday will see the remaining 13 fixtures, including another Scandinavian-Irish encounter, this time Danish side Odense BK face Ballymena United FC from Northern Ireland. Elsewhere, Russia plays host to a real David and Goliath tie with the might of FC Spartak Moskva welcoming Lithuanian minnows, FK Atlantas.

A different Thun
Swiss team FC Thun are the only club that featured last year too. The Bernese team will be hoping that they have more success in this year's competition when they face FC Gloria 1922 Bistrita of Romania. Thun entered the competition in round two in 2003/04 but were immediately knocked out by Czech side 1.FC Brno.

Second stage
The second legs take place next weekend - 26 and 27 June - with the 21 aggregate victors joining eleven seeded teams. This includes sides from the Netherlands, Scotland, Croatia, Spain, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Germany, the Czech Republic, France and two from Belgium.

Tricky task
If one of the 42 clubs lining up this weekend does earn a UEFA Cup berth by winning one of the three finals held in August, it will be just reward for playing ten matches over five knock-out rounds in ten summer weeks.

Source: uefa.com


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