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Sevilla FC's Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium promises a party atmosphere on Thursday night, but this could yet be pooped by visitors from Germany, FC Schalke 04, at the conclusion of their UEFA Cup semi-final.
The second-leg tie coincides with the Feria de Sevilla, an annual event that celebrates Andalusian customs such as flamenco dancing while also giving the city an excuse to let its hair down for a week. The host club are hoping the festive mood will carry into the stadium and be enhanced by a huge mosaic in the stands as Sevilla aim to seal their centenary season with a European final appearance.
Only the players will be asked to keep a cool head. Sevilla coach Juande Ramos, whose team drew 0-0 away to Schalke last week, insisted: "We cannot afford to get carried away by the euphoria. It is a difficult situation because we need to score, but we can't concede either. I don't like the result as it stands and we have a lot of work still to do."
However, Ramos, who singled out Argentina forward Javier Saviola when demanding that his "players with international pedigree take responsibility" for lifting the team's performance, is without Javi Navarro and Kepa Blanco through suspension while Ivica Dragutinović and Frédéric Kanouté are major injury doubts. Striker Ariza Makukula is available, though, after a long lay-off.
Saviola himself, who scored twice in Sevilla's previous home outing in the competition – a 4-1 quarter-final defeat of Russia's FC Zenit St. Petersburg – admitted to a sense of excitement. "We want to enjoy and make the most of this match because we don't know when we will play another semi-final like this. We have to play our football, which has got us this far, and be very fast and dangerous."
Midfielder Renato, meanwhile, believes Sevilla could profit from having had their weekend league game against FC Barcelona called off due to torrential rain. "We have had time to rest and prepare properly. But it will still be a tough game."
Schalke, UEFA Cup winners in 1997, should see to that. Although coach Mirko Slomka misses influential defender Mladen Krstajić due to his red card in Gelsenkirchen, Uruguayan international Darío Rodríguez is expected to overcome a calf problem to bolster the back line. The Bundesliga side's hopes of UEFA Champions League qualification were dented by a 0-0 draw at Werder Bremen on Sunday, but said Slomka, "if we make the UEFA Cup final and then take the title, we will have had a decent season".
'Stand our ground'
Midfielder Christian Poulsen sounded confident of building on the first-leg stalemate, saying: "It was important not to concede at home, and a 1-1 draw in Seville will be good enough for us. We are certainly strong enough to stand our ground in Spain and reach the final."
With Schalke having registered three away goals in a 3-1 quarter-final win at PFC Levski Sofia, striker Gerald Asamoah added: "We are always likely to score, although the chances are still 50/50." For fellow forward Ebbe Sand, victory on Thursday and a subsequent trip to Eindhoven on 10 May would be the perfect end to his career. "This is my first European semi-final and my last chance to win a big title. I hope everyone in our team is as motivated as I am." The mood will likely be tired and emotional in the Andalusian capital come the final whistle, but it remains to be seen which set of players will be joining the party.
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