Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sevilla make a telling Mark

A UEFA Cup final to remember, even if it was far from memorable for our two Mark’s.

THERE are times throughout a long European season, with fixtures coming thick and fast around all the major leagues and the Champions League captivating the world, that the second tier UEFA Cup gets lost in the background.

With 80 teams starting the first round (after two qualifying rounds) and the competition last year expanded from the original knock-out format to a group set-up in line with the Champions League, there are fixtures all over the continent, making it near impossible to keep up with who’s in and out.

But on the evidence of this morning’s (Australian time) final, a 4-0 hiding handed out by emerging Spanish side Sevilla over English outfit Middlesbrough, there is a compelling argument why the UEFA Cup remains a viable competition, a showcase for emerging and hidden talent – clubs, players and managers.

Certainly there is a strong case for the Cup to revert back to a knock-out format – the final was the 15th European game of the season for both sides – although club bosses would argue that the revenue from TV and gates brought by the extra games is vital, particularly given that most of the competing clubs aren’t part of the rich G14.

At the very least, the final is always well worth casting an eye over, and if you look back over the likes of Porto in 2002/2003 and Liverpool two years earlier, both of who went on to enjoy Champions League success in the subsequent years, it is clearly used by some clubs, players and managers as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Rafa Benitez was another case in point, winning the UEFA Cup with Valencia in 2003/2004 before conquering Europe with Liverpool 12 months later.

Sevilla could well make the step in the coming years. In Eindhoven they turned on a sumptuous display of technical and pacey football, at the same time unearthing a couple of players that might yet make a mark on world football.

While central midfielder Vicenzo Maresca, an Italian picked up from West Bromich Albion, took the official man of the match plaudits with his two late goals, it was right back Daniel Alves who caught the eye with his excellent defensive work on Stuart Downing complemented by his technical work coming forward, which included setting up the opener for Luis Fabiano, once of Porto, with a pin-point delivery.

Perhaps not surprisingly given they infiltrate the European game, both Alves and Fabiano are Brazilian, and they had a third compatriot, left midfielder Adriano, who terrorised Boro’s Stuart Parnaby and Chris Riggott with his constant bursts through the left channel.

Alves, a 22 year old in his third year at the club and tipped as a possible Liverpool recruit, has made no secret of his love for the English game, claiming he watches the English premiership religiously, and while his compatriot Ronaldo mightn’t have heard of Mark Viduka or Harry Kewell, Alves certainly emphasised ahead of the game how dangerous the big Aussie was to Sevilla’s chances of winning, claiming Viduka was the type of player who could look disinterested for large spells and still pop up with a crucial goal.

And he may have been proved right had Viduka taken either of the two great chances that fell his way after the break, first volleying straight at Andres Palop from a Riggott knock-down before shooting wide from a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink tee-up.

It was clearly not Viduka’s night. We can only hope he’s not so charitable in Kaiserslautern in a month’s time.

The same goes for his Socceroos teammate Mark Schwarzer, back after a cheekbone fracture and wearing a protective mask. Despite a couple of excellent stops, he will be a little disappointed he couldn’t do more in Sevilla’s second and fourth goals, but he should have every right to be equally as upset with a back four that failed to provide the requisite shield or reaction to his initial saves.

Indeed, there was a clear gulf in class between the two sides all over the pitch, particularly at the back, where skipper Javi Navarro and side-kick Julian Escude, brother of French tennis start Nicholas, dominated proceedings alongside the diminutive Alves and left back David Castedo. This solid quartet has been the story of their campaign, particularly since the round of 32, conceding only three goals in its eight knock-out games, compared to Boro who had copped 10 over the same period.

In terms of controlling possession, Sevilla were light years ahead, moving the ball around with real purpose and pace, Boro running into dead ends every time they pushed the ball wide. But for a 15 minute spell in the second half, when Viduka missed his two chances, it was all Sevilla.

When the pressure valve came off, shortly after Maresca made it 2-0 with his first real burst from midfield, some of the passing was captivating, five, six and seven one and two touch passes using both the outside and inside of the foot. Breathtaking stuff.

Sevilla’s lot was helped in no small part by Steve McClaren’s decision, with 20 minutes left and 1-0 down, to take off a defender, Franck Queudrue, for a striker, Yakubu. By going to a back three it was an invitation for Sevilla to exploit the space on Boro’s left, which they accept, the impressive Jesus Navas, best friend of Arsenal’s Jose Antonio Reyes, bursting forward at pace to ask questions of Schwarzer and his defence.

Bossing both flanks and stretching the English side, it was little wonder space was created for Maresca to utilise. In twelve ruthless minutes he scored two and set up a third, for Freddy Kanoute, not a bad return for the midfielder who tops Sevilla’s goalscoring chart with 10.

McClaren, the soon to be England boss, and his men had been ripped apart, and there was no miraculous comeback this time, despite the efforts of their own Brazilian, Fabio Rochemback.

Regardless, they will take heart in reaching their first European final in miraculous circumstances and in only their second European season and look to build a team that can regularly mix it in this company.

As for Sevilla, the world now knows about the obvious treasures in their midst and will look to pillage the squad, nothing new for a club that has made a reputation for itself as an astute trader and great developer, turning healthy profits on the likes of Reyes, Sergio Ramos and Julio Baptista in the past few years.

Navas and Alves seem set to add to Sevilla’s shrewd work in the transfer market and training track.

The man credited with much of this is sporting director, Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, responsible for reorganising the development structures when he arrived at the club in 2000, a policy that has reportedly seen almost 20 kids introduced to the first team in five years. As for his eye in the transfer market, Baptista left for seven times the value he arrived. Alves and Maresca were unknown when they arrived but would command a kings ransom if sold today.

Those that follow La Liga will know that Sevilla have been building towards this success over the past two seasons, finishing sixth on both occasions. This season, under new manager Juande Ramos, they are in fifth, three points off a Champions League qualification spot with one game in hand on fourth placed Osasuna. While its two remaining games are at home, they are against Barcelona and Real Madrid, two teams they are hoping to join in next year’s showpiece.

Anyone who witnessed their methodical demolition of Boro this morning would certainly hope to see them back on the European stage sooner rather than later.

Watch the match? If so, what were your impressions of Sevilla and the likes of Daniel Alves, Jesus Navas and Adriano? Post a comment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did watched the match and thought that Mclaren has a pathetic game. He had nothing.

Craig Foster was righht when he said the FA should sack him now. Why did they bother hiring him, his record is useless. He wont last long in the job based on this performance. But your right, Seville were very good, with some excellent players.

The difference in styles was so obvious.almost all the Sevilla were competent in possesion while borough really struggled to pass it around.

Fri. May 12, 03:18:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't recall seeing McLaren play in the game. Strange. Were we watching the same game?

Boro were weak, very weak. And Sevilla were very strong. They outclassed Boro on most if not all fronts.

Their one chance, Viduka's great strike, was brilliantly saved by Palop. A 1-1 score at that stage might have changed the course of the game. Later a clear penalty (a foul on Viduka) was turned down.

There is only so much a coach can do in those games. What were the choices available to him when he had to resort to telling his players to try to get their crosses into the box in the second half so unfocussed they had become?

From my perspective, both you and the increasingly pathetic Foster are looking at it from the wrong end. (At least Theodorakopoulos had the courage to disagree with him on air.) Boro were a weaker, unimaginative team save for a 10- or so minute segment, from memory, early in the second half.

McLaren opted for a positive substitution by replacing a defender with an attaker. Had he done otherwise, there would have been howls of protest about Boro's boring, predictable approach, almost resigned to defeat.

A positive substitution was made - a gamble given they were the inferior team on the day - to try to kick-start a resurgence. The catalyst proved ineffective and the gamble didn't pay off.

So McLaren was in charge of a losing, weaker team. Big deal. Not for the first time and definitely not the last. That doesn't make him a dud coach.

It's not as if Mourinho or Wenger have never been in charge of a losing side.

You assert that McLaren had nothing. I think a fairer observation is that Boro had nothing on the day. They are capable of much more and on a better day would have made for a far more compelling contest.

I am yet to be convinced that McLaren was the best choice as England Manager. The urgency of the appointment straight after Scolari's bad form and/or the FA's bungle (depending on your view) may also prove unwise, but neither of us know that. And I know that I'll reserve judgment until he's in charge of the team - not based on Boro's last game against a classy opponent.

On a separate note, I hope that the commentary and analysis on SBS will be of a higher calibre than the usual refrain of late. Give us analysis - not prejudice. It would be a shame to see a once great broadcaster wither away from what I deem to be its self-importance. Its coverage has been magnificent in the past. Let's hope it regains its focus; it is capable of so much more.

Mon. May 15, 11:09:00 pm AEST  
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