Sevilla hopes for greatest ever season

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Sitting atop the Spanish league and going strong as the UEFA Cup defending champion, Sevilla could be having the best season in its history.

Updated: March 22, 2007 06:37 IST
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Sitting atop the Spanish league and going strong as the UEFA Cup defending champion, Sevilla could be having the best season in its history. Five days after replacing Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league standings, Juande Ramos' team hosts Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk as it chases a place in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup. It is also on the brink of reaching the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. Last week's game against neighbour Real Betis was abandoned in the 60th minute with Sevilla leading 1-0 when a bottle thrown from the crowd struck Ramos on the head and knocked him unconscious. The last half hour will be played March 20. A league title would be only its second - and first since 1946, and midfielder Jose Luis Marti believes the team has joined the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia as teams who can win multiple titles and compete against Europe's best. "Perhaps for other sides this is difficult, but Sevilla has been competing at a top level in the league and the UEFA Cup, and only Barcelona and Real Madrid have achieved something similar," he said. Sevilla start favorites Sevilla is one of four Spanish clubs vying for a quarterfinal berth. Only two are likely to get there. Celta Vigo hosts Werder Bremen, which is second in the Bundesliga; Osasuna goes to Rangers, behind only Celtic in the Scottish league; and Espanyol travels to Israel's defending champion Maccabi Haifa. Celta is in 17th place in the Spanish league, however, and has won only one of its last 12 games as struggles to avoid relegation. The Spanish club's Argentina midfielder Gustavo Lopez says it will be tough against Bremen, which is coming off a 3-0 victory over Vfl Bochum. "In the final quarter of the field, they have something about them," Lopez said. "They're very good up front. They're doing well in the Bundesliga and there's nothing easy about them." With striker Savo Milosevic sidelined with a calf muscle injury, Osasuna will be under strength against Rangers, which has targeted the UEFA Cup as its major goal for the season after having fallen 19 points behind Celtic in the Scottish league title race. "(The UEFA Cup) has been berated a little bit due to the Champions League successes," said Rangers midfielder Ian Murray. "But if you look at the squads that are in the cup, obviously there are some great teams still in it. You've still got Espanyol, Sevilla, Werder Bremen. So it's a good competition still. It's not taken lightly." Espanyol defender Marc Torrejon described his team's current seven-game winning streak in the competition as "sensational". "We know there's a long way to go but we have a historic opportunity to do something important in the UEFA Cup," Torrejon said. Espanyol's best performance in the UEFA Cup came in 1988 when it reached the final only to lose a penalty shootout to Bayer Leverkusen. It goes to Israel without Brazilian midfielder Jonatas Domingos, who has returned home without permission. Midfielder Pablo Zabaleta is recovering from an operation on his collarbone while key midfielder Ivan De La Pena, who has missed recent games because of injury, won't know if he is fit to play until the day of the match.

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