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LOSC Lille Métropole coach Claude Puel hopes that playing home UEFA Champions League matches at the Stade de France will bring the best out of his team, starting with Tuesday's visit of Villarreal CF.
Runners-up in France last term, Lille have been playing domestic games in the Stadium Nord for the last two seasons after plans to renovate their Grimonprez-Jooris ground ran into difficulties. Their temporary home did not meet UEFA regulations, however, and the club switched their Group D matches to Paris.
While Puel admits that playing 200km from Lille is not ideal, he believes the stadium that witnessed French football's greatest moment, the 1998 FIFA World Cup triumph, could inspire his players. "There's no question the Stade de France is a wonderful arena," Puel said. "The most important thing is that we feel at home as quickly as possible, otherwise it'll be like playing six away games."
Puel's young side emerged as surprise challengers to Olympique Lyonnais last season, qualifying for the Champions League for only the second time in Lille's history. Puel suggested that being without a ground may have helped them indirectly. "It was one of several obstacles that we overcame and it may have contributed to the great solidarity we have," he explained. "Hopefully, having to move again will bring us even closer together."
Striker Matt Moussilou is the only Lille player with experience of the Stade de France, having appeared there in a cup final in 2000. Centre-back Nicolas Plestan said: "We fought all year to get here and playing in such a mythical place is a great source of motivation." Captain Stéphane Dumont was keen to focus on the game, however, saying: "It's great to be here but we've come to play a football match. Once the action starts we'll need to be totally focused."
After losing 1-0 at SL Benfica a fortnight ago, Lille can ill-afford a second defeat. Puel, who usually employs a 4-4-1-1 formation, could opt for a more attacking lineup by pairing in-form forwards Moussilou and Peter Odemwingie. "We don't have to win at any cost, but we want to announce ourselves in this competition and we'll try hard to get the three points," Puel said. Defender Milivoje Vitakić is missing through suspension, but Lille are otherwise at full strength.
Villarreal have saved their best for Europe this term, defeating Everton FC in the third qualifying round, then drawing 0-0 at home to Manchester United FC on Matchday 1. Yet they were bottom of the Primera División before Saturday's 2-1 victory at RCD Espanyol, and coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini acknowledged that result came as a relief. "It was important because we were being put under pressure by the Spanish media," he said. "Now we can focus on the Lille game with clear heads."
Pellegrini disagreed with implications that Lille were the weakest team in the group. "They are very well-organised, they keep possession well and they have very fast strikers," he said. "For me the group is evenly balanced, even if United are perhaps slightly stronger than the rest." Argentina playmaker Juan Román Riquelme is back after missing the United match through injury, while Dutch defender Jan Kromkamp should recover from a bout of flu.
Villarreal may turn to another Argentinian international, midfielder Juan Pablo Sorín, for additional information on Lille. Sorín spent one season with Paris Saint-Germain FC, and said: "It's nice to be back. I have great memories of Paris. I hope some PSG fans will come to support Villarreal."
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