With Villarreal CF and SSC Napoli flying high in their domestic leagues, much anticipation surrounded their UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie – only for last week's first leg in Italy to be a cagey 0-0 draw. Villarreal striker Nilmar has pledged to put that right on Thursday.
Since scoring in both legs of August's qualifying play-off with FC Dnepr Mogilev, the 26-year-old Brazilian international has failed to register in the competition and, indeed, is without a goal in 2011 having missed almost all of January with a knee injury. Nilmar, though, is coming back into form and vows to shine for Villarreal in their 100th UEFA competition game by earning the Spanish side a last-16 meeting with Bayer 04 Leverkusen or FC Metalist Kharkiv.
"After 40 days out injured, I am back to full sharpness and confidence," Nilmar said. "Tomorrow I'll be 100% and hopefully we can see the Nilmar everyone knows. That this is the 100th match for Villarreal in Europe is something extra, another incentive for us to get motivated and for the fans to help us on the pitch. It's the club's biggest game [this season]."
Villarreal lie fourth in Spain's Liga, two points behind with third-ranked Valencia CF and looking good for a UEFA Champions League return, given Athletic Club are eight points back in fifth. However, Napoli are even better placed in Serie A, holding second spot, within three points of leaders AC Milan – meaning Nilmar and company are in for a challenge.
"We will give our all and with the help of our fans we will win the match," the former SC Internacional attacker said. "Napoli are a very strong team who are having a great season in Italy, with a lot of quality up front, but we must be careful all over the pitch and we must take our chances. It's an important game for the strikers."
While the hosts are without the injured Marcos Senna and the banned Carlos Marchena, Napoli also have a suspension to Salvatore Aronica – sent off last week – so Victor Ruiz and Fabiano Santacroce compete to deputise in Walter Mazzarri's three-man back line. The coach may also rest Edinson Cavani after a recent busy period, and with Monday's Serie A crunch game at Milan on the horizon. José Ernesto Sosa and Giuseppe Mascara could replace him, while Ezequiel Lavezzi, currently serving a domestic ban, is another option.
Mazzarri said: "We will not be distracted by the upcoming match against Milan, we must face one final after the other. We will think about Milan on Friday. We want to reach the next round and we have a good chance. Right now Villarreal must be our main priority, no doubt about that."
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