Rubén Baraja told his team-mates that "in football you should never be afraid of anything" as Valencia CF go in search of the point they need to progress in front of an expectant crowd in Italy.
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Rubén Baraja told his team-mates that "in football you should never be afraid of anything" as Valencia CF go in search of the point they need to progress against Genoa CFC in Italy.
The final denouement in Group B promises drama aplenty; both Valencia and Genoa could progress with the right combination of results, but if LOSC Lille Métropole win at home against SK Slavia Praha, one of the sides at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium will bow out of the UEFA Europa League. Needing just a point, Valencia have a nominal advantage, but an excitable home crowd might cancel that out.
At 34, Baraja has been through his share of tense European nights, and he believes he knows what Valencia have to do. "We cannot play for a draw – we have got to win and it is always important that you have it in your mind that you are playing to win," said the former Spain midfield player. "The most important thing is that the team applies itself. We cannot have any fear of the fans."
The tension inherent in the occasion was not lost on Valencia coach Unai Emery, who will be without the injured David Silva, Vicente Rodríguez and Jérémy Mathieu, but can recall Spanish football's leading scorer David Villa following suspension. "The winner knows that they will go through and we are preparing ourselves to win this game," he said. "Genoa are an unpredictable team, but my team's philosophy changes very little whether we are at home or away. The fans will have an impact on the home team, but we are at Genoa, in their stadium, and it is up to us to play this 'final' away from home. We have to attack but also be intelligent in defence."
Gian Piero Gasperini's Genoa have scored at least twice in all of their European home games this season, while Valencia's ten group stage goals suggest the home defence could be in for a busy night too. "We both score a lot of goals and we have got to think about scoring more," explained Baraja, whose side would be seeded in Friday's round of 32 draw as section winners if they prevail. "I'm fine; I'm calm and thinking about the good of the team."
Genoa lost 3-2 at the Mestalla on Matchday 2, and midfielder Alberto Zapater, signed from Real Zaragoza in the summer, knows all about Valencia's threat, telling uefa.com: "Valencia are tremendous on the counterattack which is why they win so many away games; they don't have powerful strikers but they are all fast, epitomised by David Villa. We need to stay compact, close down any space and attack with great spirit, as we always do at home. It will be a fantastic, emotional night for us and our fans."