LONDON - Four of the UEFA Cup groups will be wrapped up with eight games played tonight. Even though some teams have their tickets for the round of last 32 reserved, there is still much at stake for the teams fighting for the top spots, in order to avoid better teams in the next round.
Group winners get the supposed bonus of avoiding the teams that enter the competition in the next round having been eliminated from the more prestigious Champions League.
Groups E and F have already yielded their qualifiers for the next round, leaving the teams jockeying for positions tonight.
Wolfsburg will be without leading striker Grafite because of a head injury and can top Group E if it avoids defeat against seven-time European champion AC Milan, although coach Felix Magath is not sure that would be such a good thing.
"I don't know if it's better to play against a third-place team from the UEFA Cup or a third-place team from the Champions League," Magath said. "Looking at the Champions League, I think there are easier opponents there. But first, we need to focus on AC Milan. We are playing a top team and we will try to cause them some grief."
Portsmouth and Heerenveen lost all hope of advancing to the next round, so their clash at the Fratton Park will be a rubber duck tie.
Ajax, Aston Villa and Hamburg are all on six points and are already through from Group F, with the German side keen to take first place when it welcomes Aston Villa. "It's not a friendly," coach Martin Jol said.
Dutch teams on the pitch
Ajax hosts Slavia Prague without its injured Real Madrid-bound captain Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, while Feyenoord's miserable season looks set to continue in Group H.
The Rotterdam club, which is languishing in 12th place in the Dutch league, hosts Lech Poznan knowing it cannot progress.
Forward Diego Biseswar and defender Serginho Greene are definitely out following surgery.
The Polish side is hoping to surprise with a win at Feyenoord, taking the third spot, which may be possible after the Deportivo-Nancy game, which may offer the most dramatic and thrilling action of the night in the UEFA Cup.
Should Lech Poznan win in Rotterdam, it will advance to the next round if either Deportivo or Nancy wins. If the Spanish and French sides’ game ends in a draw and Poznan wins, all teams will be on five points, which will cause the second, third and fourth teams to be decided on goal difference. Nancy has the best advantage currently, and a draw will be enough for the Frenchmen to advance to the next round.
Group G is less complicated, though, as St. Etienne and Valencia have booked their places for the next round and will play in France to decide the group leader. FC Brugge and FC Copenhagen go head-to-head in Belgium on Wednesday to fill the remaining slot in Group G.