AEK will need to rise to the occasion in Seville tonight

In the new soccer season’s first major match involving a Greek team, Athens club AEK takes on the formidable Spanish club Sevilla tonight, in Spain, in the opener of a home-and-away contest for a place in the upcoming Champion League’s group stage. AEK’s Spanish coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer will be looking to extract the best from his men for this crucial encounter against an imposing opponent and recent arrival to the club of powerhouse European teams. Sevilla, winner of the past two UEFA Cup titles, was also a contender for last season’s Spanish league title until the very last round of play, but was tipped out by Real Madrid in a three-horse race that also included Barcelona, the runner-up. «It’s a big challenge for us and it’s a measure of our progress. In theory, our opponents are a better team in terms of their squad and budget, but we have worked hard and are willing to try and explore our options,» said Ferrer. «No match is decided before kickoff and we are ready to give it our best shot.» Following tonight’s match, AEK and Sevilla will meet again in Athens for their contest’s second leg on August 28. AEK’s squad was greeted with enthusiasm at the airport by fans of Sevilla’s local archrival Real Betis, a club which Ferrer has coached twice in the past, most recently between 2004 and 2006, before the Spaniard joined AEK. «If things go well and we get through to the group stage by eliminating Sevilla, I know that – apart from pleasing our fans – we will have given huge satisfaction to the Real Betis supporters for whom I have the greatest respect,» commented Ferrer. He has a full-strength squad at his disposal, but in keeping with the Spaniard’s tradition of fielding surprise lineups, AEK’s starting 11 will only be known a little before kickoff. Sevilla, looking to reach the Champions League’s group stage for the first time in the club and new-era competition’s history, are expected to be without four key players: the Brazilian star Daniel Alves, who is poised to leave the club, as well as central defender Julien Escude, Javi Navarro and Adriano Correia, both injured. «Alves is not on the list,» Sevilla coach Juande Ramos told a news conference yesterday. «He told me he was not in the right condition to play and I have informed the club about the situation… I don’t know if he has agreed this with someone else in the club because they are in talks, but we knew this might happen. I expected something like this.» Champions League regulations forbid players to compete in the competition with two clubs in the same season. Alves, a dynamic right back who transforms into an equally adept winger, is being openly targeted by Chelsea, while Real Madrid and Manchester United are also reported to be interested in acquiring the player. Pundits are anticipating a move by the Brazilian to Chelsea. The 24-year-old, a key player in Sevilla’s success of recent seasons, as well as a member and scorer of the Brazil team that won the Copa America last month with a 3-0 victory over Argentina, has asked his administration to consider offers from big clubs, saying he feels the time is appropriate for him to move on. Last week, Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido said the club had received two offers above 30 million euros for the defender. Alves, who joined Sevilla from Brazilian club Bahia in 2003 for less than a million euros, extended his contract with the Andalucians last December until 2012. Sevilla goes into tonight’s game following a 1-0 home victory against Real Madrid last Saturday in the first leg of the Spanish Supercup, contested by the Spanish league and cup champions of the previous season. Sevilla, last season’s cup winner in Spain, travels to Madrid for the Supercup’s return leg this Sunday. (Kathimerini/Reuters)