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The prospect of facing David Villa and Nikola Žigić will not be a particularly happy one for the players of Club Brugge KV as the return of the UEFA Europa League brings Valencia CF to Belgium.
Club Brugge already face a daunting task given their failure to win a post-Christmas European tie for six years while, in stark contrast, the Liga side are currently unbeaten in 18 UEFA competition fixtures, including all 16 matches under coach Unai Emery. Furthermore, it was Žigić whose headed goal against Club Brugge in the UEFA Cup just over a year ago rescued a point for Valencia and sent them into the round of 32.
As for Villa, Club Brugge's talismanic striker Wesley Sonck also has the unhappy memory of putting Belgium 1-0 up against European champions Spain in October 2008 only to see the Valencia marksman give La Furia Roja an 88th-minute winner.
Invoking that special moment, Villa told UEFA.com: "We are getting to know more and more about Wesley and his team-mates given that we are close to playing against them again. It's a case of analysing them patiently. I think this is a similar situation to that of our national team. Valencia may have the better side and the better players but if we do not demonstrate that on the pitch, then things will get complicated."
Valencia's progress to the knockout phase was built on what in Spain is nicknamed 'the English method' - winning half their group games and drawing the other half. However, Villa warned that Emery will come to Belgium looking to kill the tie off. "Against Brugge in Belgium, Valencia will have to try to win," said the 28-year-old. "We are a club that has to try to win everywhere we go. Since this is a knockout phase, we have to come out as overall winners, not in just one game. When we go there, we must fight to impose ourselves, try to win and then start over again in the return leg at Mestalla."
Villa and Žigić scored only three group-stage goals between them, but Emery's side have been contributing efforts from all positions, with nine more strikes helping Valencia finish ahead of LOSC Lille Métropole, Genoa CFC and SK Slavia Praha. The imposing Serbia forward believes that statistic is evidence of a robust mentality throughout the squad. "The most difficult thing in football is to score, but even as a striker, my opinion is that it is not so important who gets the goal," he said. "The most important thing is that any one of us can score, and that we win.
"We are certainly not going to be naive in Brugge, because it's a very important match for us," added the 29-year-old. "We definitely want to win the Europa League; it's one of our goals for this season. It's not going to be easy because they are tough opponents, but one good thing is that we play away in the first match, and the second leg is at home. It's important to play with maximum concentration and be very careful in the first leg. Everybody knows that away goals count double so we will go there with the intention of scoring in Belgium."
Žigić has one other trick up his sleeve. His friend Milan Jovanović plays for R. Standard de Liège and was voted Belgium's player of the year in 2009. The international team-mates will talk before Valencia take on Club Brugge. "Of course I will talk to Jovanović and ask about what kind of team Brugge are, about their individual stars in particular but also about how they play and what kind of form they are in at the moment." Preparation – sporting, mental and telephonic – is the key for Valencia, the 2003/04 UEFA Cup winners, as they attempt to bring European glory back to Mestalla once again.
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