*

upload_article_image

Seville derby renews after player hit by object in last game

Sevilla and Real Betis will revive their heated rivalry on Sunday, six weeks after their last clash was marred by fan violence against a Sevilla player.

When Seville’s two teams met in mid-January at Betis’ stadium, the Copa del Rey game had to be suspended when a piece of PVC tossed from the stands hit the head of Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordán.

Complaining of dizziness, Jordán was taken to hospital where he quickly recovered. The match was resumed a day later behind closed doors, with Betis prevailing 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Far from bringing the fierce rivals together, the incident sparked accusations by some Betis players that Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui had encouraged Jordán to exaggerate the harm done by the oblong object. Lopetegui firmly denied this and defended his player as the victim while also criticizing the the Spanish soccer federation's decision to resume the game one day later while Jordán was still unable to play.

The ugly episode reminded many Sevilla supporters of a 2007 match against Betis that was stopped when Sevilla coach Juande Ramos was knocked unconscious after being hit in the head by a bottle hurled from the stands.

All in all, Sevilla is even more motivated to get the win this weekend.

“I won’t lie, in the changing room we are eager (to play Betis),” Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic said this week.

Betis was initially punished with the closure of its Benito Villamarín Stadium for two games, but the federation later agreed to just close the section of seats where the object was thrown from instead.

Both teams have Europa League matches on Thursday night before their derby.

Sevilla and Betis are having excellent seasons, with Sevilla in second place and Betis right behind in third in the Spanish league.

While Betis is a long shot to challenge for the title and more likely focusing on a top-four finish to qualify for the next Champions League, Sevilla has a unique opportunity to add to its single league title won back in 1946.

Lopetegui’s team appears to be the only realistic challenger left that can stop Real Madrid from winning the title. It sits six points adrift, with Betis another five points behind. Defending champion Atlético Madrid and Barcelona are fighting for fourth.

But Sevilla has squandered several chances to pull closer to Madrid, drawing four of its last five league games. It can ill afford to drop more points if it hopes to overtake Carlo Ancelotti’s team.

Madrid also faces a derby on Saturday at Rayo Vallecano, a humble team that had been playing superbly until it hit a skid. Rayo, which had risen as high as fourth and has reached the Copa del Rey semifinals, has lost four straight in all competitions.

Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao on Sunday at Camp Nou. Barcelona, which plays at Napoli in the Europa League on Thursday, has not lost since it fell 2-1 at Athletic in the Copa del Rey just over a month ago.

Atlético, entering the round in fifth place, hosts Celta on Saturday after its frustrating 1-1 draw with Manchester United in the Champions League round-of-16 on Wednesday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports