DAVID SMITH - Thursday, March 10, 2011
Maurice Edu and Rangers will try to continue their historical dominance over PSV Eindhoven while Oguchi Onyewu and Twente face a second straight Russian opponent as the Europa League round of 16 gets underway.
PSV Eindhoven - Rangers FC
Maurice Edu and Rangers have history on their side as they face off against Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven in their Round of 16 first leg on Thursday evening.
These teams have previously locked horns over two legs twice in European competition, with the Glasgow team coming out ahead on both occasions. They first ousted their Dutch counterparts in the second round of the 1978-79 European Cup, then won both home and away games 21 years later in the Champions League group stage.
Their overall record sees them with three wins and one draw, and they will hope to further this record as both teams attempt to make their way into the quarterfinals.
Eindhoven are having one of their better league campaigns in recent years, sitting atop the Eredivisie standings and looking poised to take the title for the first time since 2008.
They had little troubles dealing with French opponents Lille in the previous knockout round, taking the home leg by a 3-1 scoreline to finally push through 5-3 on aggregate.
Rangers had a tougher road to the final 16, overcoming Portuguese team Sporting only on away goals after Edu scored a dramatic last-second equalizer in Portugal, but come into Thursday's game on the heels of a tough-fought 1-0 win over St. Mirren in league play which kept them still within reach of a third straight Scottish Premier League title.
Walter Smith's squad heads to Eindhoven with several absences. Forward Nikica Jelavic is cup-tied due to his earlier appearances in the competition this season for Rapid Vienna, while Sasa Papac, Kirk Broadfoot, Lee McCulloch, Steven Naismith and Jamie Ness are all injured.
Nikola Jelavic remains ineligible for European matches having already featured for Rapid Vienna in the group stages.
FC Twente - Zenit St. Petersburg
Oguchi Onyewu and Twente will do their best to back Russian opponents Zenit St. Petersburg into a corner on Thursday night when these two teams meet in the De Grolsch Veste stadium for the first of two legs.
Twente are traveling a familiar road, having already bested Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan in the first knockout round, however this time they will face the slight disadvantage of having to travel east to St. Petersburg for the second leg.
With just eight games left in their Eredivisie campaign, Twente are locked in a battle for the top spots with traditional powers Eindhoven and Ajax. They do hold a three point edge over third-place Ajax, however are trailing leaders PSV by two in their quest for a second straight league title.
Thursday's matchup is the final warmup for Zenit before the commencement of their domestic season, which will begin three days later with a trip to Terek Grosny, who have made the news in the offseason first by picking up Dutch legend Ruud Gullit as head coach, then having been linked by sporting tabloids as a possible location for an unlikely comeback of Brazilian retiree Ronaldo.
Twente face the absences of two vital contributors, with forward Bryan Ruiz out due to a muscular problem and midfielder midfielder Denny Landzaat also a question mark.
Zenit have just one absence, midfielder Sergei Semak who will be out for both legs having suffered a broken foot in pre-season training.