UEFA resume the UEFA Europa League campaign this week by shining a light on three ambitious clubs, Granada CF, Benfica and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, as the competition returns for the Round of 32.
La Liga side Granada CF have reached the knockout stage in their first-ever UEFA Europa League campaign, finishing behind PSV Eindhoven but ahead of PAOK and AC Omonia in Group E to progress to the next round and continue their fairytale story.
While they face a stern test against the iconic Italians of Napoli tonight (February 18, KO 9pm), the side from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains feature in the next episode of Unscripted Stories, a series of short films being aired throughout this season’s competition to spotlight the unexpected and the unpredictable in the action-packed tournament.
A phenomenal 442 goals have been scored during the competition to date, which translates into an average of three goals per game and one every 30 minutes. In addition, the UEFA Europa League has produced spectacular goals aplenty – with Rangers’ Kemar Roofe scoring the longest goal in UEFA Europa League history at 49.9 metres against Standard Liege, only to be upstaged one week later by Omonia’s Jordi Gomez, who scored from 55.8 metres against PSV Eindhoven.
Unscripted Stories captures the magic of the tournament, beginning with CSKA Sofia’s exciting young defender and captain Valentin Antov, and continuing with Granada’s meteoric rise told in the words of La Liga’s youngest manager, Diego Martínez.
Granada qualified for the UEFA Europa League after finishing seventh in La Liga, no mean feat given the club were in the Segunda Division the year before.
The 40-year old Martínez has relied on the goalscoring exploits of veteran strikers Jorge Molina (38) and Roberto Soldado (35) but age is proving no barrier for the UEFA Europa League newcomers.
“Not even the most optimistic Granada fan would have believed this,” said Martínez in the opening scene of Unscripted Stories. “From the second division to competing in the UEFA Europa League in just two years. It’s incredible. We will never be the biggest club but we are ambitious.
“We work hard to earn our spot in the next phase and we are proud to represent the club and the badge. It has taken a lot of effort but with the group stages done and after some solid results, we are proud and we belong in this competition.
“We are still on this dream trajectory and we are proving that nothing is written.”
In Episode 3, we hear from the exciting Moroccan midfielder Adel Taraabt and Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen as Benfica prepare to face English Premier League side Arsenal in the Round of 32.
Taraabt, who has also starred for UEFA Europa League rivals Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan, said: “Winning the UEFA Europa League is a goal for us this season. We want to win it for our fans, for the history of this club and for ourselves.
“For now, we are focussed on our matches against Arsenal. It’s two games, anything can happen and we will give our best.”
Episode 4, released on 22 February, tells the story of Bundesliga hopefuls Bayer Leverkusen ahead of their clash with Swiss side Young Boys. The German side are littered with talent, and head coach Peter Bosz outlines his ambitions for this season’s tournament, alongside young French forward Moussa Diaby and Jamaican international Leon Bailey, who has confidence in the ability of his teammates.
Bailey said: “We came first in our group by just playing good football, from the first minute to the end. Some people think that we are too young to win the competition but they have obviously never seen what we can do.”