UEFA Cup semi-final opponents Villarreal CF and Valencia CF are local rivals too.
By Andy Hall
With a place in the UEFA Cup final at stake, local rivals Villarreal CF and Valencia CF could hardly have chosen a more dramatic time to stage their first ever meeting in European competition.
Barely an hour's drive apart, the two clubs have the Roig family in common. Fernando Roig is enjoying his seventh term as Villarreal president, while his older brother Francisco held the same position at Valencia from 1994 to 1997. With a reported 30,000 shares in the club, Francisco Roig remains the biggest single shareholder at the Mestalla.
There are connections at coaching level too. Having coached Valencia during the 1983/84 season, Francisco 'Paquito' García went on to take charge of Villarreal, while current Valencia players David Albelda, Miguel Ángel Angulo and Andrés Palop spent successful loan spells with Villarreal.
Certainly, relations between the neighbours have been cordial in the past, but according to 25-year-old Valencia midfield player Jorge López, who joined the club from Villarreal in the summer, Valencia have everything to fear from their opponents on Thursday.
'More to lose'
"As favourites we have more to lose," said López, who is ineligible to play in the match at El Madrigal having already played for Villarreal in the UEFA Intertoto Cup earlier this season. "We are obliged to win but if we lose, it will be seen as a disaster because we are a bigger club."
Having progressed all the way to the semi-finals after winning the Intertoto Cup in the summer, López had to raise his hat to his old side. "It's not usual for a club that entered the tournament at the Intertoto stage to come this far," he said. "Villarreal's case is not the normal way things happen but they are in the semi-final because they have played well right from the start."
The 'Yellow Submarine' has sunk many bigger clubs en route to the semi-finals, seeing off Galatasaray SK, AS Roma and Celtic FC. They are all impressive scalps for a side who have only been in the Primera División for five seasons in 20 years since hauling themselves up from the Tercera División.
Their league form this season has been less impressive - they currently lie in tenth position - but the fact that, unlike title contenders Valencia, they have nothing else to fight for could yet make Villarreal an even more daunting prospect for their big-hitting neighbours.
"This is an evenly-balanced contest," insisted Valencia coach Rafael Benítez as he reflected on the two sides' motivation. "If you were to ask players in both teams what this means to them then you would discover just how important it is. There are plenty of players who have never played in a European final."
For Sergio Ballesteros, who will partner Quique Álvarez at the centre of the Villarreal defence, the draw has done his side a major service. "I'm sure Valencia would have preferred anyone other than us," he said. "We know all about them and how to take advantage of their defects."
Certainly, Villarreal supporters are anticipating something special. Coaxing in supporters for league games has proved problematic for Villarreal this season, but the prospect of getting one over on their neighbours has brought supporters flooding out from the woodwork and a sell-out crowd is expected.
Should Villarreal break Valencia's spirits as well as the Madrigal's attendance record on Thursday, it could yet be the end of a beautiful friendship.