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Fearless Sarriegi relishes Villarreal test

With Panathinaikos FC having proved they can win away in the group stage, José Sarriegi says the Greens are "so full of confidence and motivation" that tackling Villarreal CF in Spain "holds no fear for us at all".

José Sarriegi enjoys his winner in Milan
José Sarriegi enjoys his winner in Milan ©Getty Images

It has been an interesting UEFA Champions League season for Spanish defender José Sarriegi given that his goals have brought both heartache and joy to Panathinaikos FC.

Famous win
An unused substitute in Panathinaikos's opening Group B defeat by FC Internazionale Milano, the 30-year-old then had the misfortune to score an early own goal away to Anorthosis Famagusta FC on Matchday 2 which heralded a second successive loss for the Greens. But football can be kind as well as cruel, and it was Sarriegi who got the historic winner when Henk ten Cate's side subsequently defeated Inter at San Siro en route to topping the section ahead of the Nerazzurri.

Coach intervenes
Asked whether he had another goal in his boots at El Madrigal, where Panathinaikos face Villarreal CF in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Wednesday, the centre-back could not even form a response, never mind give it, before coach Ten Cate leant over and said: "He's got two saved up this time!"

'No fear'
Panathinaikos's success in Milan came either side of victories against Werder Bremen and Anorthosis, a sequence which has fuelled belief as they look to reach the last eight for the first time since 2001/02. Sarriegi said: "What we've discovered this season is that we can beat anyone anywhere, not just in our own stadium. Obviously it's a difficult tie against Villarreal but we are so full of confidence and motivation that it holds no fear for us. It's kind of the coach to predict that I've got more goals up my sleeve but as long as we come away having scored and given a proper account of ourselves, I don't care whether I get near the opposition goal or not."

Llorente threat
He does, however, find it easy to identify a goal threat at the other end of the pitch where Joseba Llorente will seek to add to his three group-stage strikes for Villarreal. Sarriegi, a former Athletic Club Bilbao and Deportivo Alavés player, said: "I know and like Llorente, he's a friend. He has the striker's knack of knowing exactly where to be and when. We will all have to watch him because one slip will be all he needs."

Victory a must
Villarreal midfielder Marcos Senna is also relishing renewing ties with an opponent, Panathinaikos midfielder Gilberto. "It will be the first time I've faced him since we lost to Arsenal in the 2006 semi-finals – it will be interesting," said the Spanish international. "I think it's fair to say that Panathinaikos are favourites because they won a difficult group in style while we were runners-up in ours. But we're at home, in front of our own fans, and the minimum requirement is to win this match with a difficult game to come in Greece in two weeks' time."