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Duo seek vital victory in Villarreal

Published: Wednesday 7 December 2005, 19.01CET
Both Villarreal CF and LOSC Lille Métropole stand on the verge of making history on Wednesday, with both clubs striving to reach the last 16 for the first time.
by Graham Hunter
from Villarreal

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Published: Wednesday 7 December 2005, 19.01CET

Duo seek vital victory in Villarreal

Both Villarreal CF and LOSC Lille Métropole stand on the verge of making history on Wednesday, with both clubs striving to reach the last 16 for the first time.

Both Villarreal CF and LOSC Lille Métropole stand on the verge of making history on Wednesday at El Madrigal, where a victory for either would guarantee a first appearance in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

The Spanish Group D leaders carry the tag of favourites lightly on their shoulders, not only because they are at home but thanks to a sequence of only six defeats in 53 UEFA club competition matches. They are also unbeaten in their maiden campaign in this competition, having won one and drawn four of their five fixtures in the pool. However, Villarreal coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini, who welcomes back prolific frontman Diego Forlán after five games out injured, knows his side face a demanding night.

'Open game'
"I think we will need to play extremely well to beat Lille as they are well-organised and hard-working," said the Chilean. "But perhaps because a draw is not necessarily enough for them to qualify, they may have to play a more open game. I have always been confident since the group draw that we have the ability to qualify for the knockout stage - but now comes the time to prove it. It's great to have Diego back given all he's done for the team since arriving but I wish he had managed to play a couple of games before this one."

Early goal
Forlán is likely to replace Luciano Figueroa, part of the team beaten 2-0 by FC Barcelona on Sunday - Villarreal's first defeat since mid-September. The Uruguayan's return means that apart from Alessio Tacchinardi and Quique Álvarez, Pellegrini has a full squad to choose from. "We will play to win even though a draw would be enough for us and I'd like to see us scoring as early as possible to settle the rhythm of the game," added the coach.

Schmitz out
Lille coach Claude Puel - missing defender Rafael Schmitz, an ever-present in five group outings which have yielded six points - believes the date with destiny will not unnerve his players. "The first thing to be clear about is that neither the occasion nor Villarreal hold any fears for us," said Puel. "This has been a very tough group, but I feel that we have found our rhythm and we have matured as a group.

Cup finals
"Villarreal are certainly difficult to play against because they play as a team and there is a group of high-quality players there. The key to their play is that [Juan Román] Riquelme likes a lot of possession and Villarreal generally like to control the game by keeping hold of the ball. This experience is, I suppose, like a little cup final for us but we are conscious that there is another one taking place in Lisbon where the result could also influence our final position in the group."

Indeed, all four teams in the section can still reach the knockout rounds. Villarreal need just a draw, while a point would also be enough for Lille should SL Benfica (on five points) hold Manchester United FC (on six, but with an inferior head-to-head record against the French challengers) in the Portuguese capital. If there is a result in Lisbon, Lille will require a victory to advance - no mean feat considering they are yet to score an away goal in Group D.

Plestan vow
Lille defender Nicolas Plestan remained confident, however. "It doesn't matter what has happened so far, if we have to score to qualify then I promise we will do it."

Last updated: 07/12/05 13.53CET

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