Switzerland, Dec 16: The often-maligned Europa League received a boost Friday when Manchester United and Ajax were paired to face each in the other in the Round of 32.
Ajax will host Man United on Feb. 16 in a clash of clubs who have been European champion a combined seven times.
“It's two teams that should have been in the Champions League still,” Ajax commercial director Henri van der Aat told The Associated Press. “They (United) will be very motivated. You have to show the world that even if you are in the Europa League, that you can win it.”
Also, defending champion FC Porto will play Premier League leader Manchester City as the first two matches in the draw featured teams who joined UEFA's second-tier competition after exiting the Champions League.
In other matches, 2010 Europa League champion Atletico Madrid will face Lazio, while Europe's two highest-ranked leagues were brought together in a Stoke-Valencia pairing.
Also, it was: Udinese vs. PAOK Thessaloniki; Locomotiv Moscow vs. Athletic Bilbao; Viktoria Plzen vs. Schalke; Salzburg vs. Metalist Kharkiv; Rubin Kazan vs. Olympiakos; AZ Alkmaar vs. Anderlecht; Steaua Bucharest vs. FC Twente; Wisla Krakow vs. Standard Liege; Braga vs. Besiktas; Trabzonspor vs. PSV Eindhoven; Hannover vs. Club Brugge; and Legia Warsaw vs. Sporting Lisbon.
All but one of the first legs will be played Feb. 16, with the return matches scheduled for Feb. 23 -- with the exception of the Man City-Porto match on Feb. 22.
Man City was seeded in Friday's draw but got no luck after placing third in the strongest Champions League group, finishing behind Bayern Munich and Napoli.
“Porto is probably the toughest game we could have,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “Manchester City against Porto feels like a Champions League game. We know this game will be difficult, but also it will be difficult for them.”
UEFA also drew the pairings for the last 16, which will be played on March 8 and 15.