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Thursday, December 01, 2022

Villarreal’s European hopes hang on victory over Liverpool

MADRID ( Associated Press) — Spain’s small town Villarreal could face their last Champions League night at some point if it doesn’t play another upset against Liverpool on Tuesday.

The modest club ousted Juventus and Bayern Munich on their way to a surprise semi-final appearance. But if she cannot reverse the 2–0 loss of the first leg against the English club, recent history shows she will not have another chance to play in the competition any time soon.

Villarreal are only seventh in the Spanish league, nine points from the final qualification place for the European competition, with four rounds left.

The team’s chances of qualifying through the Spanish league were hit on Saturday when it lost to second-to-last-place Alavés after coach Unai Emery was asked to rest some of his regular starters before the match against Liverpool. fell.

This means that only a Champions League title will allow the club to return to Europe’s top club competition next season.

Looking back at Villarreal’s recent record, it won’t be easy to make a comeback either.

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Based in a city of 50,000 people in southern Spain, Villarreal had not played in the Champions League since the 2011–12 season. Prior to this, it had qualified for the tournament only in 2005–06 and 2008–09. This is their third appearance in the knockout stage, and their first since reaching the quarter-finals in 2009. It reached the semi-finals in 2006.

In the knockout stage, Villarreal had both eliminations against an English club – Arsenal.

Villarreal qualified for the Champions League this season by winning the second-tier Europa League for their first significant title.

Even a return to the Europa League or Europa Conference League could be difficult for Emery’s side as it is four points behind sixth-placed Real Sociedad and five points behind fifth-placed Real Betis.

Liverpool are looking to reach their third Champions League final in five seasons. The last time it was eliminated in the knockout round was in the 2001–02 quarterfinals after winning the first leg against Bayer Leverkusen.

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The English club won all five games played in the Champions League this season, including in the round of 16 against Inter Milan and in the quarter-finals against Benfica.

Villarreal’s fans are preparing a big party to try to help Villarreal make an unexpected comeback. Mosaics will be displayed inside the La Ceramica stadium, and a corridor of fans will welcome the team bus that will take the team from the training center to the stadium.

Highly successful in the Europa League, Emery is enjoying his best Champions League campaign ever after never progressing beyond the round of 16 in his previous attempts.

It is unclear whether he will be able to count on some key players due to injuries, including striker Gerard Moreno and veteran defender Raul Albiol.

Moreno misses the first leg with a muscle problem, while Albiol is knocking. In the first leg against Liverpool, the defender became the oldest Spaniard to play in a Champions League semi-final at the age of 36.

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