Tension between Betis and Sevilla has cooled
11 March ~ Although the two teams in Seville are not having the best of seasons, the Andalusian capital will become the sixth city ever to host a European derby after Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, London and Bucharest. The clash between Betis and Sevilla in the last 16 of the Europa League – the first leg is tonight – has been declared a high-risk match by the Anti-Violence Committee (an organisation jointly run by the Spanish federation and government officials), although the rivalry has softened in recent years.
The city's derby achieved an extra level of drama in the 2000s, when Sevilla won several trophies –including the Copa del Rey twice and two UEFA Cups – and Betis qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history while winning their third major trophy, the 2005 Copa del Rey. After matches full of incidents between the fans and tension in the directors’ box, a low point was reached when a Copa del Rey match had to be suspended due to a bottle hitting Sevilla manager Juande Ramos in the head. Official club statements routinely incited hatred, and there were usually plenty of arrests made around the stadiums on derby days.
However, the sudden death of Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta in 2007 during a game against Getafe, when he was only 22 and one of the best prospects in Spanish football, united the city and the clubs, with Betis fans attending memorials wearing their green-and-white shirts. Since then, while the violence has not disappeared completely – 28 fans were fined and banned for six months from attending matches after incidents before 2012 derby – there is much greater harmony between the clubs.
There was a joint event this week where both clubs symbolically followed each other on Twitter, as they launched the hashtag #EuroDerbi to gather messages from both sides. Sevilla president José Castro said that “the beautiful thing is that, whatever happens, there will be a Sevillian team in the quarter-finals”. This type of statement would have inconceivable just eight years ago, when relations between the clubs were almost nonexistent.
Despite the heightened emotion generated by this fixture, neither team are among the favourites to win the Europa League; it’s through their performances in La Liga that their respective coaches will look to keep their jobs. Betis are bottom of the table and unlikely to stay up with 11 games left and an eight point-gap to recover. In comparison, Sevilla sit in a comfortable seventh place, but they have found it hard to adjust to the departure of key players Jesús Navas and Álvaro Negredo, while coach Unai Emery is increasingly unpopular among the fans. The Europa League derby match is a nice one to win for both, but certainly not a matter of life or death anymore. Antonio Mateo