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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Champions League Preview: Villarreal v Panathinaikos

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This tie brings together two sides who will be glad to have missed the heavyweights in the draw. Both will feel they have a decent chance of progress to the last eight.

Villarreal should have been finalists in 2006. A missed penalty cost them dearly against Arsenal in a campaign where they could easily have become surprise winners.

The 'Yellow Submarine' continue to defy football gravity thanks to investment by a club President who made a fortune in ceramics, careful recruitment in South America and a strong youth structure.

Their 2006 side were set up to maximise the influence of the mercurial Juan Roman Riquelme and the pace of Diego Forlan but the 2009 vintage is a tighter unit that give little away.Two 0-0 results with Manchester United in the group stage shows what a tough nut they can be to crack.

Many of the 2006 squad have moved on but the composed Marcos Senna, who anchored Spain's Euro 2008 champions, is still controlling the midfield. The Spanish influence in Manuel Pellegrini's side has increased as the club became established at the top level and left back Joan Capdevilla was also in the Euro 2008 team.

The club achieved a historic second place in La Liga last year with a couple of familiar names on the books- Robert Pires, once of Arsenal and Guiseppe Rossi, ex-Manchester United. They are 4th in the league at present

Panathinaikos are regular participants in the Champions League but irregular visitors to the knockout stages. This year they came through two qualifiers before topping a section containing Inter Milan.

The Greens' head coach is Henk Ten Cate, yet another refugee from Chelsea's merry-go-round. He's got the club punching above their weight in Europe though they trail bitter rivals Olympiakos by some way in the domestic competition.

The Greek internationals on the books are supplemented by a phalanx of Brazilians and several other nationalities. The captaincy is held by Georgis Karagounis who still brings his combative, all-action approach to the midfield. His compatriot Dimitris Salpigidis has impressed with his selfless work this year.Andreas Ivanschitz was at Euro 2008 in Austria's squad.

The club haven't reached the last eight in this competition since 2002 and they were semi-finalists way back in 1996. They will go in as underdogs but crucially Ten Cate has improved the poor away form that usually dogs Greek clubs at this level.

The Athens club have never won a tie in Spain though. Coming away with a draw from the small, but atmospheric, Madrigal would be an excellent result.

Villarreal v Panathinaikos 25/2/09 7.45pm

Prediction Panel
Our panel contains both Squarefootball writers and readers, the writers are marked: (sqf).

Chris Goodwin : 2 - 1
Colin Illingworth (sqf) : 3 - 0
Hugh Larkin (sqf) : 2 - 0
Antony Melvin (sqf) : 2 -1
Mark Williams : 2 - 0

Panel Verdict
The panel are expecting  a Villarreal win

Home: 5 ; Draw: 0 ; Away: 0.

* Do we have it right, or do you know better? Please don't bother with derisory comments on the predictions after the match - unless you also pulled us up before it!

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Hugh Larkin



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