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Rivals fight for Champions League berth

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 7 Apr 2011

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The biggest match in Spain this weekend sees third-placed Valencia do battle with Villarreal who are fourth.

Just three points separates the sides, who are both vying for Spain’s third and final Champions League berth, thereby avoiding the lottery of a play-off to qualify for Europe’s richest tournament.

The two teams played out a 1-1 draw on November 20 at El Madrigal, and ahead of his side playing host to Villarreal on Sunday at the Estadio Mestalla, Valencia midfielder Juan Mata does not feel the clash will be season defining.

“I think we all know that it won’t be definitive,” Mata said. “It would be a six point advantage if we win, but there are still a lot of points in play.”

“Every team is able to beat anyone, so we wouldn’t be able to relax. It would be a big step forward, because they are our closest rival at the moment, but not a definitive result.”

Valencia had high hopes of challenging for the title heading into the 2010-11 season, but have slowly drifted away from the top two of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

They were knocked out of the Champions League by Schalke last month and have lost three of their last five in the league, but in Villarreal they face a side who are also struggling for form having only won twice in their last nine league games.

Nevertheless, Mata predicts a tough battle on Sunday.

“They play nice football, which is down to the quality of their players,” he said.

“The reality is that we are in third place, having played good football and bad football. We have a three-point advantage and the fans know that, although Villarreal are having a good season, we are as well.”

Villarreal face Dutch champions Twente in the first leg of a Europa League quarter-final tie on Thursday.

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