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By Graham Hunter in Valencia
Spanish league leaders Valencia CF may be favourites to progress to the UEFA Cup final at the expense of neighbours Villarreal CF, but Rafael Benítez's squad are not taking the test lightly.
'Cause for concern'
Valencia's Spanish international goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares was quick to stress that Villarreal "legitimately give us cause for concern". He told uefa.com: "They make life difficult and uncomfortable for their opponents and we'll have to give everything in order to beat them and reach the UEFA Cup final.
"Winning the UEFA Cup has been one of our major priorities since the start of the season so we will not give that up lightly. But competing to win two top-level tournaments as we are means that our general tiredness has reached a new level because it's not easy and the finishing line is in sight. We will apply to this tie the same work ethic which has taken us this far."
Although Valencia's squad is rich with talent and experience there are some significant alterations which Benítez will have to make to cope with suspension and injury. With full-back Amedeo Carboni suspended and Fábio Aurélio still injured it appears Benítez will ask Javier Garrido to move to left-back.
Vicente a doubt
Such a switch would leave the opposite flank needing replenishment and one solution would normally be to move Curro Torres to right-back and replace him in right-midfield with the left-footed Vicente Rodríguez. However, Vicente has been suffering from flu and has a question mark over his participation. Furthermore, Francisco Rufete is sidelined and Miguel Angulo is doubtful but the home side will at least be buoyed by the return of Argentinian playmaker Pablo Aimar, who has missed the last three UEFA Cup matches through injury.
For the Valencia coach the answer lies not in tactical niceties but in the overall attitude his team show to this 'Euroderbi' between two teams situated barely an hour away from each other on Spain's eastern Mediterranean coast. "It has to be a motivation to the players when they see and hear how much winning this game means to our fans," Benítez explained.
No time or space
The crowd will be pushing us on to victory for the whole 90 minutes and we need to show even more pride and determination than the Villarreal players. The first-leg score of 0-0 means that we both have to play to win and there will be no time or space to relax or feel over-confident."
Villarreal centre-half Fabricio Coloccini insisted his team were in no danger of being intimdated, however. "This is the most difficult game we could be facing at the moment - but only in a footballing sense," he said. "Valencia are a fantastic unit and, as a team, they are proving why they are on the point of winning the Spanish title. But I don't feel the Mestalla atmosphere will unbalance us. We are fighting to make history for this club and my team-mates have the mentality to focus on that – it will be the players not the fans who decide which team is going to Gothenburg."
'The best thing'
Villarreal coach Francisco García spent years at Valencia as youth-team coach but now has only one thought – knocking them out of the UEFA Cup. "That would be just the best thing," he said. "The memories of that great club and my time there will stay in my heart for ever. But this is an opportunity which a club like Villarreal must not let slip through their hands."
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