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The most successful partnership in Ryder Cup history will spearhead Continental Europe's challenge against Britain and Ireland in the opening fourball matches of the Seve Trophy team competition on Thursday.

Continental Europe captain Seve Ballesteros and fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, who together produced 11 wins, two halves and just two defeats at the Ryder Cup, will take on Britain's Lee Westwood and David Howell in the first match.

"To have him (Jose Maria) next to me is a guarantee that the match will be good," five-times major champion Ballesteros told reporters at Campo de Golf Parador in El Saler, Valencia on Wednesday.

"He makes me feel very comfortable. We're nearly neighbours in Spain, we have similar backgrounds and we've enjoyed many great matches in the past."

Ballesteros, who introduced the Ryder Cup-style Seve Trophy to the European Tour schedule in 2000, is also banking on home advantage to spur his team to victory against holders Britain and Ireland.

It is the first time the Seve Trophy will be held on Spanish soil and half the 10-man team are from Spain.

"I am very proud to have five Spaniards in the side, all of whom will be a big draw for the Spanish public," said Ballesteros.

"I am equally proud that the 2003 Seve Trophy is being played at El Saler. It was my wish to bring the event to my country."

Continental Europe won the inaugural competition at Sunningdale in England by 13-1/2 points to 12-1/2, but Britain and Ireland levelled the series last year at Druids Glen in Ireland, triumphing by 14-1/2 points to 11-1/2.

This year's event will carry a prize fund of 2.2 million pounds ($3.69 million), with each member of the winning team earning 150,000 pounds

Ballesteros's team is made up of: Spaniards Ballesteros, Olazabal, Sergio Garcia, Ignacio Garrido and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Dane Thomas Bjorn, Alex Cejka of Germany, Swedes Fredrik Jacobson and Niclas Fasth and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin.

The Britain and Ireland team, captained by Colin Montgomerie, also includes Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Westwood, Phillip Price, Paul Lawrie, Brian Davis and Howell.

Englishman Howell, 28, was a late replacement for Darren Clarke, who has opted to play in this week's PGA Tour season-ending Tour Championship in Houston, Texas.

Davis, Poulter and Rose make their debuts this week for Britain and Ireland, while Garrido and Jacobson are the rookies for Continental Europe.

The playing format has been altered for this year's contest due to daylight problems, and the competition will span four days instead of the previous three.

Five fourball matches will be played on both Thursday and Friday, with four greensomes scheduled for Saturday morning.

Four foursome matches will follow on Saturday afternoon before the trophy is decided over 10 singles matches on Sunday. The winning team needs a minimum of 14-1/2 points.

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