Somebody has to score in semi-finals
London, May 5:
0-0 and 0-0; it can’t be the same again. One thing is for sure that Thursday’s UEFA Cup second-leg semi-finals won’t end until somebody puts the ball in the net. Both first legs two weeks ago ended 0-0, meaning the return matches between Valencia and Villarreal, and Marseille and Newcastle are toss-ups.
Valencia and Marseille both have advantages at their noisy home grounds -- the Mestalla and the Stade Velodrome. But the two visiting clubs could benefit from the away-goal rule. If a match ends in a scoring draw, the visiting team would advance to the May 19 final in Goteborg, Sweden. Valencia last won this trophy in 1963, and Newcastle took it in 1969. Marseille, the 1993 European champion, lost in the final in this competition in 1999. Villarreal is making its debut in European soccer. Valencia is trying for its first double. The Spanish team leads La Liga by four points over Real Madrid with three games to play, and hopes to add the UEFA Cup as a topping.
“We know that playing at the Mestalla we have a really good chance and we’ll do our best to reach the final,” Valencia coach Rafa Benitez said. Valencia will be without Spain international midfielder Francisco Perez Rufete, who will miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury, while top-scorer Miguel Angel “Mista” Ferrer is suspended. Coming back from injury are forward Pablo Aimar and defender Amedeo Carboni.
“We know how difficult it will be on Thursday at the Mestalla and how tough it will be to eliminate a team like Valencia, but we are confident,” Spain international striker Jose Mari Romero said. “It’s only one match so I think things aren’t decided yet.” Located just 60 kilometres (35 miles) from Valencia, Villarreal is injury free and better than its ninth place in the league suggests.
Marseille will rely on top striker Didier Drogba, who could be teaming with Steve Marlet if he’s back from a thigh injury. It’s a formidable duo headed by Drogba, who was named France’s Player of the Year over the weekend. “I will be motivated because people will expect a lot from me for Marseille to qualify,” he said. “Scoring goals is my job. I don’t feel any more pressure because of that.” Marlet missed the match at Newcastle, and Drogba wants him back. “He was not in Newcastle with us and that was a handicap because he brings a lot of speed and consistency to our game,” Drogba said.
Newcastle is battling on two fronts. In the league, the Magpies are jousting with Liverpool for fourth place and the final Champions League spot. But the UEFA Cup is the only hope for silverware. “A Champions League spot and a trophy has to be regarded as a great season for us,” said defender Titus Bramble, who fills in for Jonathan Woodgate. Woodgate, the England international, is out for the season.
Manager Bobby Robson has injury problems. Jermaine Jenas is out and Laurent Robert has a thigh injury. Forward Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer are out but could return before the season ends. “We have to just go for it against Marseille,” Bramble said. “We can go there and get a goal. I’m confident we will.”