MADRID - After a decade of trying, Sunday could be the day Villarreal finally claim three Primera Liga points from Real Madrid at the Spanish champions' Santiago Bernabeu home, according to midfielder Robert Pires. Villarreal have failed to beat Real away in nine attempts since making their top-flight debut in the 1998-99 season, but the Frenchman said their battling performance against leaders Barcelona in the last round has given them confidence. "On the one hand we are happy with the impression we gave, but on the other a bit disappointed at having lost against what for me is currently the best team in the league," Pires said of the match against Barca on December 21, which the Catalans won 2-1. "I am sure that if we play with the same motivation against Real Madrid we can get something positive from the match," the former Arsenal man said. "One of these days Villarreal has to win there and that day could be Sunday." Barcelona, who host struggling Real Mallorca on Saturday, lead the standings on 41 points, 10 ahead of second-placed Sevilla, who play bottom-of-the-table Osasuna at home on Sunday. Villarreal are in sixth, level on 29 points with fifth-placed Real ahead of Sunday's clash, while Atletico Madrid and Valencia both have 30 and play each other on Saturday at the Mestalla. Villarreal's fit-again Turkish striker Nihat Kahveci said he was relishing the chance of opening the scoring for his side on Sunday, which would be their 500th goal in the top flight. "All goals are important but I would be very excited to score the 500th in a stadium as difficult as Madrid's," he said on the club's website (www.villarrealcf.es). "It's always great to go down in the history of a club." Real will be without striker Gonzalo Higuain, who has tonsilitis and will likely be sidelined for seven to 10 days, but defenders Pepe and Gabriel Heinze have recovered from injury and are available along with midfielder Wesley Sneijder. HUGE DESIRE Barcelona set a blistering pace in the first part of the season, beating all four of their closest rivals in the run-up to Christmas including a 2-0 triumph over arch rivals Real at the Nou Camp. They managed that feat even without Spain international midfielder Andres Iniesta, who missed eight weeks with a thigh injury. However, he has fully recovered and said he cannot wait to get back to action against Mallorca. "I have never been sidelined by injury for so long and I have a huge desire to get back on the pitch," he said on the club's website. "You usually suffer being out but I actually enjoyed it because we have been playing great football, we have won and we are in a position that could not really be any better." Valencia's Brazilian goalkeeper Renan said his side's clash with Atletico at the Mestalla would showcase some of the best attacking players in the league. "It will be a big challenge for us to face such a squad," Renan said in reference to Atletico's formidable forward line including strikers Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan and winger Simao Sabrosa. "But we also have some great players and they will have to watch out for (David) Villa, (Juan) Mata and the others."
1 January 2009
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