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Goalkeeper Andrés Palop is primed for "one of the most important games" in Sevilla FC's history – against an AEK Athens FC side with a Real Betis Balompié connection.
Juande Ramos's team have won two successive UEFA Cups but have yet to play in the UEFA Champions League group stage, having made their six previous European Champion Clubs' Cup appearances some 50 years ago. "It's one of the most important games in the club's history," said Palop. "We want the crowd to make the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium like a pressure cooker."
Alves left out
Julien Escudé (groin), Javi Navarro (knee) and Adriano Correia (ankle) are sidelined, and will watch from the stands alongside the ineligible Morgan De Sanctis and Daniel Alves, who is omitted amid speculation about his future. Team-mate Frédéric Kanouté said: "I don't know if Alves will leave but I understand his decision. If he plays, it will complicate any move."
'No way back'
Kanouté's recovery from a groin injury will give Ramos added fire power against AEK, last season's Greek Super League runners-up. The striker has group stage experience from his time with Olympique Lyonnais and understands the pressure on his side to perform. "It's the start of a great European campaign and if you fail, you're out of the tournament," he said.
AEK may be a long way from home, but they can bank on partisan support with fans of Sevilla's local rivals Real Betis greeting them at the airport. AEK's Spanish coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer twice coached Betis, most recently between 2004 and 2006 before his arrival in Athens. "If things go well and we get through to the group stage by eliminating Sevilla, I know that – apart from pleasing our fans – we will have given huge satisfaction to the Betis supporters for whom I have the greatest respect," said the coach.
'Our best shot'
Untroubled by injuries, Serra Ferrer is eager for his team to do themselves justice, saying: "It's a big challenge for us and it's a measure of our progress. In theory, our opponents are a better team in terms of their squad and budget, but we have worked hard and we are willing to try and explore our options. No match is decided before kick-off and we are ready to give it our best shot."
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