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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

UEFA Cup: Holders Sevilla face Spurs test

Holders Sevilla must halt Tottenham Hotspur's pursuit of a UEFA Cup record on Thursday if they are to remain in contention for back-to-back triumphs. The Primera Liga title challengers host the first leg of their quarter-final against a Tottenham side who have won all eight of their matches in the competition this season.

The London club, twice winners of the trophy, are one victory away from equalling the record for winning most consecutive UEFA Cup matches - set by Borussia Monchengladbach (1974-75) and Parma (1999). Spurs will look to Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov to add to his tally of seven so far in the competition and Sevilla's Uruguayan striker Ernesto Chevanton said his side needed to be wary of their goal threat.

'They have a strong team who like to put in a lot of high balls because they have tall forwards who are technically very good. It will be a tough game,' he said. Coach Juande Ramos rested a number of key players for the weekend draw with Osasuna that left Sevilla two points behind leaders Barcelona.

Goalkeeper Andres Palop and Brazilian fullback Daniel Alves were left out with minor injuries and leading striker Frederic Kanoute only came on as a late substitute. Kanoute comes up against his former side on Thursday, the Mali international having spent two seasons at White Hart Lane before joining Sevilla in 2005. Sevilla's Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano serves a one-match ban for three yellow cards in the competition.

Left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, defender Anthony Gardner and midfielder Danny Murphy are all injured for Spurs but Egypt striker Mido (calf) and compatriot Hossam Ghaly (flu) should be available while Finland midfielder Teemu Tainio (calf) could return. AZ Alkmaar and Werder Bremen meet for the first time in European competition with the Dutch side putting their long unbeaten home record on the line in the first leg.

AZ, the highest scoring side in the UEFA Cup this season with 25 goals, have not lost at home since they entered European competition in 1977 - a run of 29 games. Coach Louis van Gaal has some injury problems with defender Barry Opdam sidelined and winger Nourdin Boukhari doubtful.

It will be the German side's first European quarter-final appearance since they lost in the last eight of the UEFA Cup to Arsenal in 2000 and they are boosted by midfielder Tim Borowski's return to training after a knee injury.

Bayer Leverkusen, the 1988 winners, go into their tie at home to Osasuna in fine form having won four out of five league games, conceding just two goals along the way. Osasuna are making their first appearance in a European quarter-final but will be without key midfielders Javad Nekounam and Patxi Punal who have joined long-term injury victim Ludovic Delporte on the sidelines. Defender Josetxo is also ruled out.

'We can't feel sorry for ourselves over the injuries because we have shown in the past that the team can get by, whoever is out,' said striker Savo Milosevic who returned from four weeks out injured at the weekend.

Espanyol are the third Spanish side in the last eight and coach Ernesto Valverde said keeping a clean sheet in the home leg against Benfica was the key to his side's chances of progressing.

'We need to prevent them scoring here on Thursday, this could be key to the tie. 1-0 would be a great result,' he said.

Benfica will be without suspended Greek international midfielder Kostas Katsouranis with veteran playmaker Rui Costa set to deputise after returning from a long lay-off at the weekend.