Football: British trio primed for Europa adventure

PARIS - A revamped Tottenham Hotspur will headline the Premier League's quest for Europa League success when the group stage begins on Thursday.

Spurs, winners of the competition in 1972 and 1984, will also be joined by Welsh outfit Swansea City and English second-tier side and European debutants Wigan Athletic.

Tottenham again finished agonisingly out of the Champions League places last season, consigning them to the Europa League for the third year running.

Andre Villas-Boas's men were knocked out at the quarter-final stage on penalties by Switzerland's Basel a year ago, but a favourable draw - Tromso, Sheriff Tiraspol and Anzhi Makachkala accompany Spurs in Group K - has the north Londoners targeting another deep run.

Despite the departure of talisman Gareth Bale, who joined Real Madrid for more than 90 million euros (S$151 million) earlier this month, Spurs have reinforced their squad with seven new signings.

"Obviously the Europa League is a massive competition and we've got a big squad this season, so we're looking to really challenge on all fronts," said midfielder Andros Townsend, who faces increased competition following the arrivals of Christian Eriksen, Paulinho and Erik Lamela.

"We're looking to go into Thursday's game with confidence from the win (over Norwich) on Saturday and hope we get a good result.

"We've got the squad to challenge on all fronts, but first and foremost we've got to focus on getting out of our group," added Townsend ahead of the visit of Norway's Tromso.

Swansea travel to Valencia in their opening Group A match, marking a return to Spain for manager Michael Laudrup, who played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid and guided Getafe to the quarter-finals in 2008.

Laudrup's Premier League side, who qualified by virtue of winning the English League Cup, features a sizeable Spanish contingency, although ex-Valencia winger Pablo Hernandez will miss out against his former club due to a hamstring injury.

"It will be another very difficult game for us," said Laudrup, whose team were also drawn with Russian club Kuban Krasnodar and Swiss side St Gallen.

"(Valencia) are a very good side, but our supporters will be looking forward to going over there, and obviously the players too."

That sentiment was echoed by defender Ashley Williams, who added: "It is nights and games like this that you look forward to and as a squad we will certainly give this our very best shot."

Wigan's first foray into Europe comes with the Latics grinding it out in the Championship after their shock FA Cup win over Manchester City was followed by relegation from the top flight.

The extra fixtures will undoubtedly complicate Wigan's quest for an immediate return to the Premier League, but partaking in European competition was something chairman Dave Whelan never thought he would see.

"It is somewhere you think you will never ever get to - apart from holidays in Majorca," said Whelan ahead of the club's trip to Belgian outfit Zulte Waregem in Group D that also includes Russia's Rubin Kazan and Slovenia's Maribor.

"It's exciting going into Europe for the first time for almost everyone in the squad, and of course for the first time for the club, and we'll see what we can do on that stage," added midfielder Callum McManaman.

Elsewhere, Italian hopefuls Fiorentina, who host Pacos Ferreira, will have to make do without Germany striker Mario Gomez, who was ruled out for up to seven weeks after damaging knee ligaments over the weekend.

Two-time winners Sevilla start their campaign against Portuguese newcomers Estoril, while Lyon go to Real Betis of Spain and PSV Eindhoven host Bulgarian side Ludogorets.

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