If last season's UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC failed to live up to the hype, hopes are high that the 2006/07 UEFA Cup showpiece, pitting the competition's holders and form team against the top scorers, will meet expectations.
Sevilla FC arrive in Glasgow to face RCD Espanyol in formidable shape as they seek to become only the second side to retain the trophy. They prevailed last year by beating Middlesbrough FC 4-0 and their route to the final this time around bears obvious parallels. Like last term, they have lost twice along the road to Hampden Park, against AZ Alkmaar in a group-stage dead-rubber and then CA Osasuna in the semi-final first leg. Juande Ramos's team turned the latter tie around in the second encounter, however, Luis Fabiano's goal setting up a 2-0 win.
It was the Brazilian forward's fourth strike in the competition, making him Sevilla's top scorer in this UEFA Cup campaign alongside Ernesto Chevantón. Indeed, their 22 goals in 14 games have come from eleven different players – including goalkeeper Andrés Palop. The 33-year-old headed a stunning 94th-minute equaliser to keep the holders alive in the Round of 16 as their glory bid looked to be ending at FC Shakhtar Donetsk. That strike made it 2-2 on the night, 4-4 on aggregate, and an extra-time goal from Chevantón completed the drama. After further odd-goal triumphs against Tottenham Hotspur FC and Osasuna, the Andalusian side sealed their place in the final.
Having lifted the UEFA Super Cup last August, Sevilla could yet finish the season with four trophies as they remain in contention for Primera División and Copa del Rey honours. By contrast, Espanyol are languishing 12th in the domestic table, yet they have been the team to beat in Europe. Ernesto Valverde's men have racked up an impressive 32 goals in their unbeaten run to Glasgow, including eleven for Walter Pandiani. Only three players have ever registered more in a single UEFA Cup campaign, and his feat is all the more remarkable given the Uruguayan frontman sat out the semi-final second leg at Werder Bremen through suspension.
The Catalan outfit nevertheless withstood a few early scares to cement an impressive 5-1 aggregate success, their eleventh victory in 14 matches of a European challenge that began in the first round against FC Artmedia of Slovakia eight months ago. Sides with the pedigree of SL Benfica and four-time European Champion Clubs' Cup winners AFC Ajax were similarly dismissed by the emerging force of Espanyol. It promises to be an absorbing conclusion to the tournament.
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