Euro flavour to Barca-Villarreal La Liga clash

April 13, 2006

MADRID, April 13 (Reuters) - Leaders Barcelona host fellow Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal at the Nou Camp on Friday in a Primera Liga match that both sides hope will be a dress rehearsal for this season's European Cup final.

The game has been brought forward in order to allow the two teams more time to prepare for their respective semi-final, first leg clashes against AC Milan and Arsenal.

Although both sides will have one eye firmly trained on their challenge for European domination, they will be determined not to neglect their domestic commitments as the Spanish season reaches its climax.

With an 11-point lead at the top of the table and just six games left to play, Barcelona know that victory will leave them within a hair's breadth of wrapping up their second successive league title.

Villarreal, who are eighth in the standings and nine points off the Champions League places, must win Friday's game if they are to renew their bid for a berth in the continent's elite club competition.

Given what is at stake, Villarreal striker Jose Mari is certain that neither side will be holding back when they meet at the Nou Camp.

'It would be great if this game turned out to be repeated in the Champions League final,' he told a news conference this week. 'Both sides have got very tough semi-finals ahead of them, but it could happen.

'But although we have got two important games coming up next week, I don't think either side will be thinking of anything except the league. That's precisely why the game was brought forward to Friday.'

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta echoed his opponent's sentiments.

'We certainly won't be thinking about the Milan game,' he said. 'We will be totally motivated because we know that we can't afford to relax in the league.

'The fact that we could meet Villarreal in the final shows how strong the Spanish league is. We are two teams that play good football and like to put on a show.'

Barca will be without live-wire Argentine forward Lionel Messi after the 18-year-old suffered a setback in recovery from a thigh injury.

They will also be missing Rafael Marquez and Thiago Motta through injury and suspended centre back Carles Puyol. Brazilian internationals Ronaldinho and Juliano Belletti have minor niggles and could also miss Friday's game.

Villarreal centre back Gonzalo Rodriguez will miss out through suspension, but playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, Josico and Quique Alvarez should all be fit to play after suffering minor problems following Sunday's 1-1 draw against Deportivo Coruna.