Spain's interest in this season's UEFA Champions League may have ended prematurely but the Primera División can take pride from the fact it is still assured one European trophy. Wednesday's UEFA Cup final is an all-Spanish affair as Hampden Park hosts the showdown between RCD Espanyol and Sevilla FC. Some 26,000 ticket-holders will make the trek from Catalonia and Andalusia for a match which pits the competition's top scorers against its holders.
It is a contest which, according to Espanyol defender David García, will serve to showcase the quality of the Spanish game. English observers may have taken the presence of three Premiership sides among the UEFA Champions League's last four as a measure of their league's superiority but the evidence of this term's UEFA Cup is that, for strength in depth, the Primera División is possibly unsurpassed.
"We often like to claim that the Spanish league is the strongest and I guess the fact it is an all-Spanish UEFA Cup final, after three of our teams reached the semi-finals [CA Osasuna were the third, losing to Sevilla], is some proof," García, 26, told uefa.com. "I'd say it's getting increasingly difficult to compete in our league and it is not just the top teams who need to strengthen well in order to compete but almost every other team really needs to scout and spend well. Sevilla are an example of what I talked about in analysing the strength of Spanish football. They've been back in the top division six years and they have spent every summer improving, buying really well and also developing their own talent. Above all, in the last two years they have become a very attacking, very aggressive side."
Since Juande Ramos took the helm in 2005, Sevilla - known not so long ago for their physical approach - have become a joy to watch. Their success should encourage other clubs who lack the budget of the regular UEFA Champions League contenders. The modest facilities and relaxed feel of their Ciudad Deportiva training base are a reminder of how far they have come since returning to the Primera División in 2001. Of course, Espanyol also know something about life in the shadows, given they share a city with FC Barcelona. Yet though they sit in mid-table in Spain, they have shone in Europe, scoring 32 times in 14 outings while claiming the scalps of AFC Ajax, SL Benfica and Werder Bremen among others.
Sevilla goalkeeper Andrés Palop told uefa.com Espanyol are formidable opponents. "We have a lot of respect for them – they play well on the counterattack, they have forward players like Luis García, a good passer of the ball in Iván de la Peña, and they're a good team in general." The 33-year-old could also have mentioned Walter Pandiani, the tournament's eleven-goal leading marksman. Certainly Espanyol's firepower will give coach Ernesto Valverde hope of finally landing the club's first European honour, 19 years after losing this same final to Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
A close encounter should beckon if the teams' 2006/07 league meetings are an indication: Espanyol ended an eleven-match unbeaten run for Sevilla when they beat them 2-1 in December, while Ramos's side won the return 3-1 last month, albeit against under-strength opponents. Whatever the outcome, the hope is these two teams can provide a spectacle to savour. Real Madrid CF claimed European crowns at Hampden in 1960 and 2002 but, as the old ground may yet witness, it is not just Spain's most famous names who can put on a show.
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