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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 6, 2006

Saviola rallies Seville ahead of UEFA Cup final

Javier Saviola has rallied Sevilla for Wednesday's UEFA Cup final by warning his team-mates it may be the best chance of European glory they ever have.

The Argentinian forward has spent the season on loan from Barcelona, where he had become an outcast, and has revelled in the confidence shown in him by coach Juande Ramos.

It might not be a surprise to see a Spanish club contending a European final, but Sevilla were a club in turmoil last summer.

After their sixth-place finish, coach Joaquin Caparros departed for Deportivo La Coruna and star players Sergio Ramos and Julio Baptista joined Real Madrid.

But another decent season in the Primera Liga has been complemented by the European campaign, and now only Middlesbrough stand between Sevilla and their first major trophy in almost 60 years.

Saviola, 24, said in Marca: 'It's not every day you play in a UEFA Cup final and not all seasons go as well as this.'

Saviola also believes the match in Eindhoven provides him with the ideal opportunity to win a place in Argentina's World Cup squad.

The diminutive Argentinian has been a potent weapon for Sevilla this season and is desperate to avoid a repeat of four years ago when then national team coach Marcelo Bielsa decided he was too inexperienced for the World Cup.

His record 11 goals had helped Argentina win the 2001 Under-20 World Cup, and the decision to omit Saviola was almost as controversial as Cesar Luis Menotti leaving the 17-year-old Diego Maradona out of his 1978 squad.

Saviola believes the timing of the match - coming five days before Bielsa's successor Jose Pekerman has to hand in his 23 names for the World Cup - makes it a heaven-sent opportunity.

'This title would give international prestige to the club and to myself,' he said.

'You never know what will happen because there are no favourites and either team might have a bad day.

'We will try to play our football.'

Sevilla's form has surprised many within the club.

Italian midfielder Enzo Maresca, formerly of West Brom, told the club's website: 'At the beginning of the season it would have been hard to imagine us playing in the final.

'We need to to play well and if we can produce a good first half we can secure the victory.'

The Sevilla starting line-up for the match in Eindhoven is not yet set in stone but the outline is apparent.

Saviola, desperate to make Argentina's World Cup squad, is undoubtedly Sevilla's most dangerous threat and he will fill one of the berths up front with Brazilian marksman Luis Fabiano the favourite to partner him.

Former Tottenham man Fredi Kanoute and Kepa are other alternatives to Fabiano, while youngster Antonio Puerta, whose extra-time goal settled the semi-final with Schalke at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium when he came on as a substitute, may feature at some stage.

Midfielder Jesus Navas, 20, and Puerta, 21, give Sevilla fans plenty of reason to be hopeful for the future and they can in many ways be compared to the young academy-based team which future England head coach Steve McClaren has been grooming at the Riverside.

The comparisons do not end there. Sevilla president Jose Maria Del Nido, who admitted he had celebrated a goal for the first time in his life when Puerta struck the winner against Schalke, has like Boro chief Steve Gibson dragged the club up by its boot straps.

And just as the north-east of England has produced players like the Charlton brothers who have found fame elsewhere, the same has applied to Andalusia which has produced many players who have gone on to earn their living in Madrid or Barcelona.

The club also produced Arsenal forward Jose Antonio Reyes.

Spain's King Juan Carlos hopes to attend the final for which Sevilla have adopted an 'age before beauty' policy to ticket sales. Seats have been sold on the basis of seniority, in terms of how long fans have been club members.

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