After what has been the most traumatic week in the club's 102-year history, Sevilla FC return to competitive action at AEK Athens FC on Monday as they strive to win a place in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time.
The UEFA Cup winners of the past two seasons carry a 2-0 lead into the rearranged away leg of their third qualifying round tie but have a number of factors to contend with if they are to make only their second appearance in the European Champion Clubs' Cup – 50 years after their debut. Not only will Sevilla have to overcome tired legs following a 3-1 UEFA Super Cup loss to AC Milan in Monaco on Friday but will still be battling the emotions following last week's death of midfielder Antonio Puerta.
Sevilla coach Juande Ramos remains confident that the Andalusians will bounce back. "We have every hope of getting a victory to dedicate to Antonio so if my team put in the same effort they made [on Friday] there is nothing more I can say," he said. "We need a victory to get back to normality and that's what we'll try to do against AEK. We are really looking forward to getting into the Champions League group stage. I hope the team will have all the strength needed in order to triumph, but we haven't had much time to prepare."
Ramos selected a strong side against Milan including Daniel Alves who underlined his commitment to the club amid transfer speculation with a committed display. The Brazilian faces a late fitness test today due to an injury to his left knee, while goalkeeper Andrés Palop has mild concussion. Midfielders Enzo Maresca, Tom De Mul and Diego Capel, defenders Federico Fazio and Andreas Hinkel and forward Luis Fabiano were all rested, however, and are back in contention for the trip to Greece, although Arouna Koné was not registered in time following his move from PSV Eindhoven. Javi Navarro (knee), Adriano Correia (calf) and Duda (calf) are also missing.
AEK have been boosted by the news that Spanish left-back Rodolfo Arruabarrena is fit to play after successfully overcoming a pulled thigh muscle to train on Sunday. AEK coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer will be without central defender Traianos Dellas because of a leg injury, with Sokratis Papastathopoulos likely to deputise. AEK reached the group stage last term but know they will have to score at least twice if they are to book their place in a section featuring Arsenal FC, SK Slavia Praha and FC Steaua Bucureşti.
"After our 2-0 defeat in the first leg, it's true that our task is very difficult," said Serra Ferrer, a former coach of Sevilla's local rivals Real Betis Balompié. "But we remain positive and we have to believe that we can overturn the situation. We must find it in our game to make things difficult for our opponents. Our aim is to score a goal as quickly as possible as that will give us wings and lift our morale."
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