Sevilla FC coach Juande Ramos believes the first leg will be decisive after his side were paired with familiar opposition in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals draw in Eindhoven. In two group stage meetings in Russia this season and last, the Spanish team are yet to beat FC Zenit St. Petersburg. However, they have savoured some success against Russian opposition during the 2005/06 campaign - comprehensively beating FC Lokomotiv Moskva in the last 32.
Sevilla also had much to celebrate in the group stage, qualifying as section winners but they did suffer a minor setback against Zenit. Aleksandr Kerzhakov scored twice to help the home team to a 2-1 victory at the Petrovsky stadium, although the Russian side eventually had to settle for second billing in Group G on goal difference. That win provided some revenge for last season, when Julio Baptista's goal earned Sevilla a share of the spoils in St Petersburg and consigned Zenit to a group-stage exit.
Ramos believes this season's defeat against Zenit may hand a small advantage to the Russian side. "We'll go into the tie in great shape," the coach said. "We also have a keen desire to reach the last four and although Zenit [whose domestic campaign has only just started] may lack fitness, they will have a mental edge." That could have been shorn by Sevilla's 3-0 aggregate victory against Lokomotiv in the Round of 32, as they claimed a first win in three attempts in Russia.
Crucial first leg
The Andalusian outfit saw off LOSC Lille Métropole in the last round and although Ramos conceded that all draws are hard at this stage, he believes today's draw at the Evoluon centre could have been kinder to Sevilla. "At this level all teams provide some level of difficulty," he said. "We would have liked to have played at home in the return, but if we play well in the first leg we'll go to St Petersburg with less anxiety."
Zenit are also placing greater importance on the first encounter as they prepare to journey into unknown territory at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium on 30 March. "We've already played Sevilla twice in the past two seasons so we know them and they know us," said Zenit representative Leonid Genusov. "Both games were in St Petersburg, though, and we've never played in Seville so it could be an advantage to them."
The Russian side are becoming used to confounding expectation, however, after a ground-breaking campaign began back in August with an unconvincing away-goals win against SV Pasching in the second qualifying round. They have impressed since, losing just once as they embarked on post-Christmas UEFA club competition action for the first time. Zenit have seen off Rosenborg BK and Olympique de Marseille in the knockout stages, and the Russian team will hope for more success as they target a semi-final date with either PFC Levski Sofia or FC Schalke 04. Sevilla will have other ideas.
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