I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for this game. When I was a kid if you qualified for Europe, that was that. Now you have to endure a series of qualifying rounds before the goal you battled so hard for in the previous season is confirmed. For Real Betis and Sevilla, despite celebrating achieving European football at the end of last season, it could all be taken away from them before the end of August.
“Europe is green and white” say the t-shirts being sold by Betis (or do I have to call them #eurobetis now? Have they undergone a rebranding by stealth in line with Hull City’s?) They’d better make sure they get through Jabolenec then, and the Czechs, who won their domestic cup and came fourth in the league, could prove to be an awkward proposition.
With Ruben Castro left at home, Betis need to channel the spirit which they showed at the Bernabeu last weekend, but the way the fixtures have fallen isn’t particularly kind for them. The trip east is sandwiched between that massive curtain-raiser, which they were unlucky to come away from empty-handed, and a first home match of the season against Celta Vigo which they’ll have earmarked three marks from. Could they take their eyes off the ball for the journey to Bohemia as the pressures of getting away to a good La Liga start build up?
They’ll be keen to see their midfield function as it did last Sunday, because that would allow them a level of control. Joan Verdú enjoyed an creative debut, as can be seen from an analysis of his passing in the attacking third. That doesn’t include two chances he created from corners as well, and with Cedrick putting in an impressive shift and roasting Sergio Ramos to set up Jorge Molina’s goal, Betis certainly have the capacity to hit Jablonec on the break, with or without Castro. With Nosa dominating the defensive states across the board in the Real Madrid match, the middle of Pepe Mel’s team has hit the ground running and needs to maintain that momentum tonight.
Meanwhile, across the city Sevilla have more recent experience of negotiating the obstacles UEFA’s second-string competition can throw in front of you. Well, as a club they do, but the current playing squad barely has any resemblance to last season’s roster, never mind the team which dominated the UEFA Cup under Juande Ramos.
Śląsk Wrocław represent a growing threat at European level. They’ve been regulars in UEFA competition for three seasons, ending a twenty-four year exile from the continental cups. They’d previously been regular qualifiers until their final European Cup Winners’ Cup tie, a 2-0 aggregate defeat to Real Sociedad in 1987.
Their recent renaissance should be a warning to Sevilla though, as they knocked Bruges out in the last round, beating them 1-0 at home and managing a 3-3 draw in Belgium which was less thrilling than you might have thought as they went 3-1 up and were only denied victory by an injury time goal.
Sevilla have exhibited a surprising look of coherence since the Summer, considering the upheaval to their squad. They smashed Scrabble fans’ favourites Mladost Podgorica in the previous round, pooped Rio Ferdinand’s party at Old Trafford and were a little unlucky not to get something out of Atletico.
It will be particularly interesting to see how Marco Marin fares. After two seasons of genuine disappointment, the German has reached the point where he either shows that he’s not a flash in the pan or accepts that his career will never hit the heights hoped of him. At the Sanchez Pizjuan he has arrived at a club which knows how to use a winger, or turned up with the legend of Jesus Navas et al to live up to, depending on how you look at it! More importantly, how he views that challenge could define Sevilla’s season and the rest of his career. A repeat of his threatening performance on Sunday would be welcome as Sevilla look to pick apart stiff Polish resistance.