Cedric Bakambu says Villarreal have done the important bit in their bid to reach the Europa League semi-finals at Sparta Prague’s expense.
Villarreal claimed a 2-1 victory in the home leg of their quarter-final last week, with Bakambu netting either side of a Jakub Brabec header to put his side in the box seat.
But Bakambu is quick to stress he is not carrying his team-mates and says it will take a collective effort to push the Liga outfit into the last four.
“The whole team does a good job,” he said. “Without my colleagues I could not play as well. We are a united team.
“We are lucky because our coach [Marcelino] is very good and knows we bring out the best in each other to improve everything.”
Villarreal sit fourth in the Spanish top flight, eight points clear of Celta Vigo with six matches left to play, and Bakambu recognises the magnitude of the club’s forthcoming fixtures both domestically and in Europe.
“This is the most important stretch – we’re fighting for the fourth position and to move on to the Europa League semi-finals,” he added.
“The most important thing was to win at home on Thursday. Our only objective now is to go and win in Prague, even though it will not be easy.”
Sparta will take confidence from their performance in Spain, having accounted for the first home goal Villarreal – the highest-scoring team in the history of the Europa League – have conceded in this season’s competition, and are unbeaten in six matches at the Generali Arena during their campaign.
But Zdenek Scasny’s men face a team who are unbeaten in six encounters with Czech opposition and in 10 Europa League matches in total.
Sparta are bidding to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s secondary club competition for the first time, while Villarreal have reached the last four twice, losing to the eventual winners on both occasions – Valencia in 2004 and Porto in 2011.
Brabec – Sparta’s goalscorer in the first leg – will be suspended for the return fixture, as will Costa Nhamoinesu. Both players have accumulated three yellow cards over the course of the tournament.
Those absences contribute to something of a defensive crisis, with Mario Holek (nose) also missing out through injury, wiping out all three of Sparta’s starting defenders from the first leg.
Villarreal remain without Mateo Musacchio, who has not featured in this competition since the last 32 in February due to a thigh injury.
Key Opta stats:
– The last Czech team to qualify for a European quarter final was Slovan Liberec in 2001-02 (UEFA Cup), while no Czech side has progressed from a European QF tie since Slavia Prague in the 1995-96 UEFA Cup.
– Only two of the last 24 European matches (incl. qualifiers) between Spanish and Czech teams have been won by the side from the Czech Republic (eight draws, 14 Spanish wins).
– Sparta Prague have scored in every one of their 15 European matches (incl. qualifiers) in 2015-16.
– Cedric Bakambu has scored seven goals in his last nine Europa League appearances for Villarreal.
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