The draw for the Europa League Round of 16 of the UEFA competitions was made in Switzerland today. Whoever designed the room where these draws happen—it looks like a small college lecture hall with a largish stage—evidently planned well—the room is always filled for the draw for the round of 32, but now there are more empty seats.
Hernan Sanz and Cristina Dardén represented Villarreal at the draw. Most clubs had two or three people there, mostly male. The Spanish clubs were sitting in the same row—Valencia, Villarreal, Sevilla—I couldn’t tell how everyone else was arranged. Exactly what one does at the draw isn’t clear to me, but presumably UEFA requires a representative from each team to be there in case something goes wrong.
There was an additional Villarreal connection (and Valencian connection) in the form of Andrés Palop, who is apparently a ‘UEFA brand ambassador’ and was the fellow who made the draw. He was Villarreal’s goalkeeper—on loan from Valencia— when we were first promoted to the Primera (1997-98) and keeper the next year too, when we were relegated back. He won three UEFA Cups (well, now they refer to them as Europa League titles) with Valencia, where he didn’t play much, and Sevilla, where he starred. (In 2007 he scored a goal in extra time in a knockout round, and went on to save three penalties in the final.
Anyway, it looked for awhile as though the Spanish teams might face each other, as none of the first 8 teams drawn were Spanish. With only four balls remaining in the jar, Arsenal was drawn, and would we be next? No, it was Rennes. Too bad, as that was the team I wanted to see us matched up with. So then it was Zenit and Villarreal left, and Zenit came out next so host the first leg. And Andrés then drew the remaining ball and opened it so we knew Villarreal were in the draw, to wry smiles from Hernán and Cristina. The draw in full:
Chelsea v Dynamo Kiev
Eintracht Frankfurt v Internationale Milano
Dinamo Zagreb v Benfica
Napoli v Salzburg
Valencia v Krasnodar
Sevilla v Sparta Prague
Arsenal v Stade Rennais
Zenit v VILLARREAL
A draw that kept the favored teams away from each other and really didn’t throw up a lot of plum ties. Frankfurt-Inter Milan is pretty good, and Napoli-Salzburg (it’s hard to know how good Salzburg is since the Austrian league is poor, but they are undefeated). Sevilla and Arsenal will be happy with their draws, Valencia and Villarreal could have done worse but have some lengthy travel. The Russian league is just coming back from its winter break so both teams will hope their opponents aren’t really back in form yet.