UEFA Cup field about to be cut in half

The UEFA Cup field of 80 teams many familiar only to their own fans will become a bit easier to understand after Thursday's matches.

The 40 first-round, second-leg games will cut the field in half.

The 40 survivors will be drawn into eight groups of five, with the top three in each making the later knockout stage. There, they will be joined by eight teams eliminated from the Champions League.

Only a few big-name teams are involved in the UEFA Cup, once a major tournament which has been badly hit by the expansion of the more popular and lucrative Champions League.

The most recent UEFA Cup champion involved this season is Feyenoord, which won the title in 2002. The Dutch club faces Lokomotiv Sofia at home after a 2-2 draw in the first leg two weeks ago.

Parma won the title in 1999 and leads the Russia club Rubin Kazan 1-0. The two play the second leg in Italy.

German club Schalke is also a former winner 1997 and leads 1-0 going into its second-leg game at French club Nancy.

Two-time UEFA Cup champion Tottenham hosts Sparta Prague and holds a 1-0 advantage from the first game one of only two games its managed to score in this season. Tottenham has failed to find the net in five of its six Premier League games.

Ajax, four-time champion in Europe's more prestigious competition, is the biggest club in the field. The Dutch club has a 5-2 lead over Norway's IK Start going into the second leg in the Netherlands.

The only other former European champions in the field are Red Star Belgrade, Marseille and Feyenoord.

What the UEFA Cup lacks in quality, it makes up for in controversy, reports AP.

West Ham's game in Palermo could be interesting with Palermo leading 1-0.

English fans at the first leg two weeks ago in London wore shirts that read: "The Hammers vs. the Mafia."

To counteract the bad publicity, Sicily's governor Salvatore Cuffaro is handing out T-shirts that read in Italian: "The Mafia is disgusting" and "Freedom is our thing."

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