European football is about to discover just how good a team Sevilla FC are. That is the view of Juande Ramos who has told uefa.com that the club's debut in the UEFA Champions League group stage will provide an acid test of their ambitions.
UEFA Cup winners for the last two seasons, Sevilla may even rate a mention among some pundits' dark horses for the UEFA Champions League crown in 2007/08. Ramos, their 52-year-old coach, is refusing to look beyond their group-stage matches against Arsenal FC – beginning in London on 19 September – SK Slavia Praha and FC Steaua Bucureşti.
"I hope we are ready - in theory we should be having won the UEFA Cup twice," he said. "We have had two great seasons and now we have a new challenge in the Champions League – hopefully we can have similar success. I think we can make up for any lack of experience through sheer enthusiasm. Although we haven't played at this level before, we have great desire. We will see in our first few games how ready we are."
In addition to their two European triumphs, the Andalusians have also lifted the UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Cup and Spanish Super Cup under Ramos's guidance these last two years. Now the trainer is excited about seeing his charges among the thoroughbred field that the European Champion Clubs' Cup brings. "There is no doubt that the continent's best teams are in the Champions League, so that is the main difference between this competition and the UEFA Cup – the quality of opposition," he said. "We are taking on the élite, but we are a team that have grown gradually and with our squad and our spirit, we should be able to compete with the big boys."
He expects his players to be pushed to their limits. "It is difficult to compete in both the Champions League and the Spanish league, with tough matches in both," Ramos continued. "We will look to rotate the squad and use all our players, and then just see how well suited they are to the demands of these games and the great toll they take physically. As it is our group-stage debut, we are going in with a lack of experience but with tremendous excitement. We will do everything we can to stay in the Champions League and to get as far as possible, while recognising that the other teams have the same goal."
If Sevilla sailed past AEK Athens FC in the third qualifying round, winning 6-1 on aggregate, they are anticipating a much tougher examination in Group H. "There are no easy opponents in Europe and we will be up against prestigious clubs, particularly Arsenal and Steaua. Unlike those two, us and Slavia are new to the tournament yet I think ours is an attractive group and a competitive one. We'd all like to be European champions but we will achieve what we deserve to achieve. We will take each game as it comes, and I am looking forward to seeing how the team adapts – let's see if they can make the same impression they did in the UEFA Cup.
"We have a style of play that works perfectly, and if we were to tinker with this we wouldn't be being ourselves," he went on. "We just have to reach for our targets from the same stable base. You would say that [AC] Milan, Manchester United [FC], Liverpool [FC] and Chelsea [FC] are the heavyweights ... until we have played our first matches, it is hard to say exactly where Sevilla fit in the pecking order."
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