- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

SEVILLE, Spain | You don’t become a soccer fan in this ancient city in southern Spain — you are born one. And there are only two choices: Sevilla FC or Real Betis.

“My father was a Sevilla fan and started taking me to games when I was 3, so it was natural to follow the club,” 25-year-old season-ticket holder Rafa DeQuinta said.

In a region where unemployment is a whopping 18 percent and the tourism trade has been hit hard, Sevilla FC has brought pride to this city of narrow streets, famous churches and orange tree-lined avenues. In the past four years, the club has won five titles and has become one of Spain’s notable teams.

“We are not like Real Madrid and Barcelona that must win titles to be loved. We just love our team no matter what,” DeQuinta said.

Then guided by coach Juande Ramos, the club won the UEFA Cup - Europe’s second largest trophy - in 2006 and 2007. Those were the team’s first titles in 56 years. Sevilla also won the UEFA Super Cup, Spain’s Copa Del Ray and the Spanish Super Cup.

Following that success, Sevilla was hit with one of the worst tragedies in the history of the sport. Early in the 2007-08 season, popular defender Antonio Puerta collapsed on the field while suffering from cardiac arrest and later died at a hospital. The Seville native was 22.

“I was at that game with my father and I thought at that moment that he just didn’t want to play anymore and was saving himself for the Milan game coming up in the Super Cup,” DeQuinta said. “But when I saw his face turned pale like Jesus Christ’s, I knew there was a problem.”

On Sunday night in the Peace Cup, Sevilla was held to a scoreless tie by South Korean powerhouse Seongnam Ilwha. Brazilian forward Luis Fabiano, the most dangerous player on the field, came close to scoring a number of times for Sevilla. American fans will be familiar with the Brazilian ace: He was the leading scorer at the Confederations Cup in South Africa, where he helped his country fight back to beat the United States 3-2 in the final.

With Sevilla having little chance of advancing in the Peace Cup after its 2-1 loss to Juventus in the opening game, Sunday’s match drew a sparse crowd, even with ticket prices slashed.

Semifinal favorite Juventus plays Seongnam on Tuesday in Jerez in the final game of group play. The Korean team, which is owned by the same organization that founded The Washington Times, still has a chance of advancing but must win by two goals.

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