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Villarreal hoping to make it third time lucky

Published: Thursday 21 April 2011, 10.29CET
Semi-finalist profile: Villarreal CF have played wonderful football to get to this stage, but after two semi-final disappointments can they break their European hoodoo against FC Porto?
by Graham Hunter
from Barcelona

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Published: Thursday 21 April 2011, 10.29CET

Villarreal hoping to make it third time lucky

Semi-finalist profile: Villarreal CF have played wonderful football to get to this stage, but after two semi-final disappointments can they break their European hoodoo against FC Porto?

Spain have enjoyed the lion's share of Iberian bragging rights recently thanks to the national team's UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup victories plus Liga teams lifting 13 continental trophies over the last eleven years.

However, Villarreal CF know that opponents FC Porto boast the greater European prize-winning pedigree and that the last two major semi-finals for the Yellow Submarine have brought heart-breaking disappointment. Villarreal lost 1-0 against local rivals Valencia CF in their 2004 UEFA Cup semi-final and were defeated by the same scoreline in the UEFA Champions League's last four against Arsenal FC two years later.

Nonetheless, Juan Carlos Garrido's side have been playing stunning, attacking football in the UEFA Europa League, eliminating Eredivisie frontrunners Twente and both Serie A and the Bundesliga's second-placed teams.

UEFA club competition honours (runners-up in brackets)
• UEFA Intertoto Cup: 2003, 2004

Domestic honours (most recent triumph in brackets)
• None

Previous UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League semi-finals
1 (lost 1)

UEFA club ranking
22 (opponents FC Porto are 9th)

Leading scorer
Liga: Giuseppe Rossi 16
UEFA Europa League: Giuseppe Rossi 10

Strengths and weaknesses
Giuseppe Rossi is in the form of his life. Not only has he racked up 31 goals in all competitions this season, the Italian international, 24, has added eight assists and a level of high-tempo industry to his game. He also points out: "Villarreal get praised for nice football and lots of goals but we do the dirty work which makes us hard to beat." In terms of weaknesses, the long-term injury that robbed coach Garrido of the excellent Ángel López at right-back in January, was recently matched by captain Gonzalo's broken leg in the 5-1 defeat of FC Twente. That is a lot of defensive talent on the sidelines.

Key moment
Following a barren first leg in Italy, the Yellow Submarine trailed to SSC Napoli's seemingly crucial away goal at El Madrigal in February's round of 32, and after something of a domestic scoring drought appeared to be struggling. However, two cleverly created efforts in five minutes immediately before half-time, by Nilmar and Rossi, turned the match. From there the Yellow Submarine were plotting their course for the semi-finals.

Unsung hero
Rossi gets the goals, Joan Capdevila won the World Cup and celebrated with an ice bucket on his head, while Santi Cazorla was a UEFA EURO 2008 champion. But Borja Valero is the tackle-winning, assist-making, smoothly oiled machine in midfield. Blessed with natural footballing gifts and trained in the Real Madrid CF academy, Valero learned a more robust style during his time at England's West Bromwich Albion FC, when he beefed up in the club gym. A dynamo.

Form
League position: 4 (Last five games: DWLLW)
After beating Twente, striker Nilmar said Villarreal's achievement in staying top of what he called Spain's "second league" – namely, all bar Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona – was significant. And until the recent 5-0 loss to Valencia, it seemed that coping with two games a week, including the challenge of tough European trips, was having no ill effects. Now, though, Villarreal's other goal for the campaign is to ensure they are not pipped to fourth place by a resurgent Athletic Club and denied a UEFA Champions League play-off berth.

Killer stat
It was a mere five years ago but of the Villarreal team that lost the 2006 UEFA Champions League semi-final to Arsenal – when Juan Román Riquelme missed a late penalty – only Marcos Senna remains at the club. His presence looks in doubt too after an injury-ravaged season.

What their opponents say
Cristian Rodríguez, Porto player:
It's going to be a very hard match, but I think it will be a very good tie for the fans as both sides like to play good football.

Last updated: 07/12/13 4.42CET

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