Omens augur well for Schalke
Sunday, 9 April 2006
FC Schalke 04 will hope to mirror the prelude to their greatest European triumph when they welcome Sevilla FC to Gelsenkirchen.
FC Schalke 04 will hope to mirror the prelude to their greatest European triumph when they welcome Sevilla FC to Gelsenkirchen for the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final. Nine years ago the Bundesliga outfit were paired with another Spanish side, CD Tenerife, at the same stage, and after prevailing on aggregate, went on to lift the trophy after a thrilling penalty shoot-out against FC Internazionale Milano in the final.
• All signs point to a second title this season after an impressive switch to the competition following elimination from the UEFA Champions League after the group stage. They announced themselves with comfortable aggregate victories against another Spanish team, RCD Espanyol, and US Città di Palermo of Italy to set up a quarter-final date with PFC Levski Sofia.
• Daniel Borimirov gave the Bulgarian team a dream start with the opening goal inside six minutes, before Cédric Bardon's 35th-minute dismissal changed the complexion of the tie. Three second-half goals from Gustavo Varela (48), Lincoln (69) and Gerald Asamoah (79) put Schalke firmly in the driving seat. A 1-1 draw in the return proved enough to see Mirko Slomka's side through to the last four, stretching their unbeaten home run in European competition to six games this season.
• That statistic looks particularly imposing given that Schalke faced Fenerbaçhe SK, PSV Eindhoven and AC Milan in a tough UEFA Champions League group, where a sluggish start ultimately halted their progress. Victories against PSV and Fenerbaçhe failed to reinvigorate a campaign that saw them pick up just two points from their opening three games, and a 3-2 defeat at Milan on Matchday 6 consigned the Gelsenkirchen outfit to a third-placed finish.
• Sevilla's route to the semi-finals has also seen its share of setbacks, most notably with defeats by LOSC Lille Métropole and FC Zenit St. Petersburg. The latter did not prevent them progressing from the group stage as section winners, however, and they were to gain sweet revenge in the last eight when the teams were again paired together. The Andalusian outfit never looked back after Javier Saviola scored twice in a comprehensive 4-1 win in the first leg at home, a 1-1 draw in Russia completing a 5-2 aggregate triumph.
• The away result continued a disappointing record on the road, which currently stands at one win in five games, their sole triumph a 1-0 victory at FC Lokomotiv Moskva in the last 32. That set them on course for a comfortable aggregate win but Juande Ramos's side found themselves behind in the next round against Lille after a 1-0 defeat in France. A 2-0 win saw them overturn that result in the return, however, and Sevilla still have a 100 per cent record at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium.
• The Spanish team are now two games away from their maiden appearance in the final of a UEFA club competition, but could have their work cut out against a Schalke team with a creditable record against Spanish opposition in recent years. Their first meeting ended in disappointment, however, as Club Atlético de Madrid beat them 4-1 on aggregate in the 1958/59 European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-finals.
• Schalke have not lost in four ties since, with the first two laying the foundations for their UEFA Cup triumph in 1997 as they brushed aside Valencia CF and Tenerife on route to the final. There Huub Stevens's men met Inter, with both legs finishing 1-0 to set up extra time, and subsequently penalties on which Schalke triumphed 4-1.
• Five years later RCD Mallorca were their opponents in the first group stage of the UEFA Champions League, and the Balearic team won the first encounter by a solitary Samuel Eto'o goal in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke gained revenge in the return, Gerald Asamoah and Ebbe Sand both scoring in an emphatic 4-0 win although it was not enough to see the German team progress.
• They did not make the same mistake against Espanyol in the last 32 this season, however, cruising to a 5-1 aggregate triumph. Second-half goals from Marcelo Bordon and Fabian Ernst earned a comeback victory at the Arena Aufschalke before Kevin Kuranyi, Sand and Lincoln all scored in Spain to seal an emphatic win.
• Sevilla have also faced German opposition on the path to the last four, overcoming a disappointing goalless home draw against 1. FSV Mainz 05 in the first round with a 2-0 victory at the Commerzbank Arena. It extended their record to three wins in five matches against German opposition in UEFA club competition, with a solitary loss coming with an emphatic 4-0 reverse against 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the second leg of a 1981/82 UEFA Cup third-round tie.