High hopes for UEFA final
Espanyol Barcelona are well-placed to reach the final after thrashing Germany's Werder Bremen 3-0 in the first leg of the other semi.sports Updated: May 02, 2007 18:38 IST
There are high hopes in Spain for an all-Spanish UEFA Cup final, unless history repeats itself for Espanyol Barcelona.
Seven years ago there was an all-Spanish Champions League final between Real Madrid and Valencia, but never before have two Spanish teams faced each other in the UEFA Cup final.
There will be at least one Spanish side in the Glasgow final May 16, since title holders Sevilla and Osasuna are the teams in one of the semi-finals.
Osasuna beat holders Sevilla 1-0 in the first leg in Pamplona last week, with the return match set for Thursday.
Espanyol Barcelona are well-placed to reach the final on Thursday as well, after thrashing Germany's Werder Bremen 3-0 at home in the first leg of the other semi-final.
But Espanyol have defender Albert Serran and Brazilian midfielder Jonatas injured, Ivan de la Pena and captain Raul Tamudo are doubtful and UEFA top scorer Walter Pandiani is suspended. The only good news for Espanyol is that striker Luis Garcia is now fully fit.
There are also haunting memories of another trip to Germany 19 years ago as well. Espanyol beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 in the then two-legged UEFA Cup final 1988, but the Germans bounced back 3-0 and won the penalty shootout for the title.
"Back then in the film the Germans won but now we want to change the ending. I hope we have learnt our lesson from that," said coach Ernesto Valverde.
De la Pena said, "If we want to be in the final, we will have to come through this match. They are a very strong team indeed, and will have the crowd on their side."
Bremen played poorly last week in Barcelona and also had to swallow a 2-3 league defeat in Bielefeld Sunday, with sports director Klaus Allofs suggesting "that some players can't deal with the pressure".
But the northern Germans have made up a three-goal deficit in Europe on three occasions in the past and firmly set their sights on another memorable comeback in the Weser stadium.
"I am convinced that the team will show its true face. It seems to love difficult tasks. The thing is not over yet," insisted Allofs.
Osasuna, for their part, have less injury doubts than Espanyol. They will go down to Seville with a full squad except for suspended striker Roberto Soldado, scorer of the only goal in the first leg.
Midfielders Javad Nekounam, Ludovic Delporte and Patxi Punal are fully fit and goalkeeper keeper Ricardo Lopez said they won't be intimidated by the crowd in Sevilla's Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan.
"This is the kind of atmosphere that every player likes. The more they shout, the better, that will only motivate us more," said Ricardo.
Osasuna have never before reached a European semi-final, let alone a final, while Sevilla aim for the first title defence in the event since Real Madrid lifted the trophy in 1985 and 1986.
The hosts have goalkeeper Andres Palop and striker Frederic Kanoute fit again, with Brazilian midfielder Renato their only injury doubt.
Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido said on Monday, "Thankfully, we only lost 1-0 in Pamplona, they had chances to beat us by several more goals."
"It is going to be very difficult, but we will go through.Our stadium is going to be a real pressure cooker, getting behind the team," he said.
First Published: May 02, 2007 18:28 IST