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Battle royal for Villarreal

Published: Thursday 27 October 2005, 17.20CET
Villarreal CF impressed in the Primera División with success at Real Betis Balompié but they still await their first UEFA Champions League win.
by Graham Hunter
from Barcelona
 

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Published: Thursday 27 October 2005, 17.20CET

Battle royal for Villarreal

Villarreal CF impressed in the Primera División with success at Real Betis Balompié but they still await their first UEFA Champions League win.
Villarreal CF might have impressed in the Primera División with success at Real Betis Balompié on Wednesday night but they still await their first UEFA Champions League win.

Momentum vanishing
The 3-2 victory against their fellow UEFA Champions League contenders caught the eye in Spain, but after three seasons of remarkable achievement in European football, some feel the 'Yellow Submarine' may finally have run out of momentum. Their UEFA Champions League debut campaign has yielded just three draws - and one goal - to date.

Past glories
UEFA Intertoto Cup winners in 2002 and 2004, Manuel Luis Pellegrini's side went on to reach the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2002/03 and the quarter-finals the following season, but Argentinian international Juan Pablo Sorín is concerned they are being found out in the continent's leading club competition.

Sorín concerned
"We are not nearly as convincing as when we finished fourth in the Primera División," he told uefa.com. "You have to take injuries and international football into account but the rhythm of weekend league football followed by midweek UEFA Champions League matches is so difficult to cope with.

'Learning curve'
"The coach hasn't had the chance to field the same team twice in a row," added Sorín, who won the penalty against SL Benfica that allowed Juan Román Riquelme to score Villarreal's first UEFA Champions League goal on Matchday 3. "Playing such a demanding level of football as the Champions League and then facing competitive teams in the league is a learning curve."

Riquelme returns
Riquelme's recent return to fitness and self-confidence has coincided with an upturn in Villarreal's domestic fortunes. That is hardly surprising as in 2004/05 he struck an extraordinary 17 goals from midfield, set up eleven more and produced a total of 293 crosses from either wing.

Tight group
Villarreal need him to show that form in the return fixture at Benfica next week as they aim to keep pace with Manchester United FC and LOSC Lille Métropole in a tight Group D. However, Dutch defender Jan Kromkamp believes victory is a clear possibility in Lisbon.

Kromkamp reassured
"We are taking heart from the fact it needed an unbelievable goal from Manuel Fernandes for them to draw with us at El Madrigal," he told uefa.com. "Benfica were difficult to play against, but I think it is easier for us to go there and win than perhaps it will be at Old Trafford.

Dutch style
"I played many times against Ronald Koeman's [AFC] Ajax teams when I was in Holland with AZ Alkmaar and he has styled Benfica in a very similar fashion," Kromkamp added. "It's typically Dutch and typically Koeman that they play 4-3-3 and for me that's an easy formation to go against. Rather than zonal defending you just know you've got one man to mark, in my case the left-winger, and if he scores then it's your fault."

Magic pairing
For Kromkamp it is a matter of time before Riquelme and Diego Forlán find their scoring boots in the UEFA Champions League. "Riquelme has this great nose for free space and knows what to do when he receives the ball in that situation," he said. "While Forlán will start scoring his usual number of goals again soon because everyone here supports him and he's a great striker."

Last updated: 28/10/05 0.07CET

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