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Coach Juan Carlos Garrido has described the prospect of reaching the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals as a "huge incentive" and has vowed that his Villarreal CF side will give everything to protect their "dream" against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Villarreal lead 3-2 after a dramatic round of 16 first leg in Germany last week in which the Spanish Liga club rallied from a goal down with strikes from Giuseppe Rossi and substitute Nilmar and then scored again in added time, once more through Nilmar, after Gonzalo Castro had equalised for the hosts.
Now Garrido's charges are 90 minutes away from the last eight. "It is a big game and a huge incentive to make the quarter-finals," said the 41-year-old. "Progressing in a tournament as big as the Europa League is massive for us. I am confident my team will produce their best in this competition. We know we can achieve something great and we will give everything to get there. The players have a dream."
Villarreal captain Gonzalo echoed those comments yet also underlined the importance of defending well at El Madrigal on Thursday. "We are excited because this is a very important competition and as a club we have been strong in Europe," he said. "But we cannot relax. Bayer will come at us and we must be focused for 90 minutes.
Despite their last-gasp defeat in Leverkusen, the Bundesliga's second-placed outfit remain confident of success, with midfielder Simon Rolfes citing their strong away record as cause for optimism. "We are used to being under pressure," said Rolfes. "We have shown we are especially strong away from home, so why shouldn't we win at Villarreal?"
Indeed, Bayer have won nine of 13 away games in the Bundesliga this term, losing just one, and have three victories from their last five matches in all competitions. The last of those triumphs – 1-0 at 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Sunday – raised morale which had been dented by Nilmar's 94th-minute goal. "I had a hard time accepting the first-leg result," said Leverkusen defender Stefan Reinartz. "You can really suffer after a setback like that, so it was good to go out and play three days later and get the win."
Michael Ballack returned to the starting lineup against Mainz after a two-week lay-off, Sami Hyypiä was back after a bout of flu while midfielder Renato Augusto shook off ankle problems to score the goal. Coach Jupp Heynckes, however, is deprived of the injured Manuel Friedrich and Tranquillo Barnetta plus the suspended Arturo Vidal.
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