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Villarreal earn Celtic respect

Published: Thursday 8 April 2004, 6.26CET
Celtic FC manager Martin O'Neill has dismissed talk of complacency ahead of the visit of Villarreal CF.
Published: Thursday 8 April 2004, 6.26CET

Villarreal earn Celtic respect

Celtic FC manager Martin O'Neill has dismissed talk of complacency ahead of the visit of Villarreal CF.

By Alex O'Henley in Glasgow

Celtic FC manager Martin O'Neill has dismissed talk of complacency ahead of tonight's UEFA Cup quarter-final first leg against Villarreal CF, claiming the Spanish side will prove to be more difficult opponents than FC Barcelona, the team eliminated by the Scottish Premier League leaders in the previous round.

'Full of confidence'
O'Neill watched Villarreal match his own side's impressive achievement by securing a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou at the weekend, and having beaten AS Roma to take their place in the last eight, the Northern Irishman knows Celtic are up against a team oozing confidence. "They will be absolutely full of it having knocked Roma out of the competition in the last round," said O'Neill.

'Heroic performances'
"Barcelona was fantastic for us and we had some heroic performances there, but we will need the same if we are to have a chance against Villarreal. I can assure you any talk of complacency is not shared by anyone in the dressing room and if anything I suspect this tie will probably be even harder for us than the games against Barcelona."

Massive boost
Celtic received a massive boost on the eve of the game when Chris Sutton and Alan Thompson signed extended contracts until the summer of 2007. Sutton missed training yesterday due to a minor groin injury, but will be fit enough to lead the attack against Villarreal along with Henrik Larsson. Long-term injury victims John Hartson, Sean Maloney and John Kennedy - who underwent surgery to rebuild his shattered knee in Colorado yesterday - are the only absentees.

Unbeaten record
Celtic's unbeaten home record, which stretches back 76 games to August 2001, almost came to an end on Saturday when Heart of Midlothian FC went 2-0 ahead at Celtic Park, only for the Hoops to stage a late comeback to earn a draw in added time. Thompson is well aware his side cannot afford to be so generous against Villarreal if they are to have any chance of progressing to the semi-finals. "A clean sheet is absolutely vital for us and if we can get a couple of goals, it would put us in a good position for the return leg in Spain," said the 30-year-old.

No fear
Villarreal arrived in Glasgow confident they can succeed where Barcelona failed by scoring a priceless away goal at Celtic Park. "In the past we'd have been knocked out much earlier, but now we have a very good team," said the visiting coach, Francisco García. "Celtic's strength is their team play and Henrik Larsson is the best known of their players, but I don't fear anyone from a football point of view."

Belletti suspended
Brazilian right-back Juliano Belletti is suspended, although Villarreal captain Quique Álvarez is expected to return to the side after missing the match against Barcelona through suspension. For goalkeeper José Reina, the fixture is an opportunity to emulate his father who played against Celtic for Club Atlético de Madrid in the semi-final of the European Champion Clubs' Cup on 10 April 1974.

Away goal
Atlético left Glasgow with a 0-0 draw 30 years ago, but Reina feels Villarreal must go one better and score at Celtic Park if their impressive debut season in Europe is to continue. "If we can score it would give us a big advantage for the second game because teams find it difficult to score in our stadium," he said.

Last updated: 08/04/04 23.27CET

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