Sevilla vs Villarreal – La Liga’s African Match Of The Season

They could well be having jollof rice and couscous with their paella at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium on Saturday, when Sevilla FC and Villarreal CF come head-to-head in LaLiga’s African showpiece game.

The fixture may well be in the heart of the south of Spain in the Andalusian capital, but there will be plenty of African flavour on the pitch and in the stands when the 2020 UEFA Europa League winners of Julen Lopetegui and Sevilla come up against the 2021 UEFA Europa League winners of Unai Emery and Villarreal.

This game can be considered the “LaLiga African Match of the Season”, sprinkled with plenty of players from the north and west of the continent who have made Spanish football home and added plenty of flair, colour and quality.

The couscous and tajine are likely to be found in the Sevilla dressing room, with its strong Moroccan influence, while the jollof rice will be the dish of choice at Villarreal, where a distinct west African flavour runs through the squad.

Mali icons Frederic Kanoute and Seydou Keita are of course the players who first attracted genuine African interest and attraction for Sevilla when they starred for the club.

These days, though, the ‘Atlas Lions’ of Morocco could well consider Seville for their international training camps, because almost half of their international starting line-up have made the city home.

Highly rated beanpole goalkeeper Yassine Bono has been one of LaLiga’s standout performers this season. As an ever-present in the Sevilla goal he’s helped Lopetegui’s charges into the early UEFA Champions League spots – challenging the dominance of the league’s big guns.

“We’ve been evolving for two years. We are getting better in every aspect of the game and we’re focusing on ourselves, which is the most important thing. Every match is a final. That’s how we go into it and that’s our mentality,” Bono recently told the club’s website.

Bono’s certainly been on song and his long balls from the back would be looking for his countryman Ousamma Idrissi on the left wing, whose flicks on and slick passes would in turn be looking to find fellow Moroccan attackers Youssef El-Nesyri and Munir El Haddadi in dangerous areas in the opposition box.

El-Nesyri is one of the exciting talents that have set LaLiga alight since joining the league, scoring an impressive 18 league goals last season, including sensational back-to-back hat-tricks.

A muscular injury has unfortunately curtailed his progress this season, after a promising start in which he’s scored three goals in nine LaLiga Santander games.

As for Villarreal, one of African football’s current poster boys, Samuel Chukwueze, has made a welcome return to form and fitness after a lengthy injury layoff.

The blisteringly quick attacking winger has been described as “technically gifted and unpredictable,” by Super Eagles icon Sunday Oliseh – and compliments don’t come from much bigger African legends than that.

Chukwueze scored recently against Barcelona and warmed up for the Sevilla clash by scoring in an 8-0 Copa del Rey rout of lower league Victoria CF this week.

Another familiar name in global football in Villarreal’s ranks is Ivory Coast wing back, Serge Aurier, who joined the club in October and already boasts a strong relationship with coach Unai Emery from their days together in French football.

On both sides there are also game changers who may well represent European nations, but whose roots are firmly in Africa.

A potent threat upfront for Villarreal together with Chukwueze is one of LaLiga’s current stars of the season, Arnaut Danjuma, who plays for the Dutch national team, but who was born in Nigeria to a Dutch father and Nigerian mother. Danjuma has kicked off his LaLiga career in sensational form, having already scored five goals in 11 LaLiga games this season, and will be one to watch this weekend.

Looking to stop the Villarreal strikers in their tracks, though, is Sevilla’s classy centre back, Jules Kounde, who has established a growing reputation as one of world football’s top defensive talents. Kounde represents world champions France, but his roots are in Benin.

Since Villarreal, the Yellow Submarine, were founded 98 years ago, several players from African countries have represented the Estadio de la Ceramica outfit, among them Ikechukwu Uche (Nigeria), Karl Toko Ekambi (Cameroon), and Cedric Bakambu (DR Congo) coming to mind.

And Villarreal President, Fernando Roig, is rightly proud of the club’s African heritage, and excited for its African future – and present.

“For me, the best (African) players are those ones in Villarreal, and at the moment we have got good ones here. All the African players in Villarreal are very important and we are enjoying them in the team, and we hope they stay (with us) for so many years. Honestly, we want the best players to come to Villarreal. Africa is one of the most important continents in terms of its contributions to Spanish and European football. And we really have to promote the African (culture) so that we can build bridges between our continents,” Roig recently told a LaLiga global media call.

A Spanish football feast awaits, with plenty of African ingredients. Saddle up, get comfy, and enjoy the ride.