Betis, Villarreal aim to book places in Europa League last-32

Madrid, Nov 29 (IANS): Villarreal and Betis can both assure their places in the knockout stages of the Europa League on Thursday night with Villarreal at home to Panathinaikos, while Betis travels to the Czech Republic to face Sparta Prague.

Villarreal's unconvincing 2-1 win against Maccabi Haifa behind closed doors in Cyprus a fortnight ago may have cost former coach Pacheta his job, but it has left them second in their group with a two-point lead over Thursday's rivals, and a win would be enough to assure they make the last-32.

The return of Marcelino Garcia Toral to the Villarreal dugout has seen them win 2-1 in the Copa del Rey away to Zamora and beat Osasuna 3-1 at the weekend.

All five goals since Marcelino's return have been scored by 36-year-old Jose Luis Morales, with the player nicknamed 'El Comandante' returning to form after starting the season as a fringe player.

Betis has hit a fine run of form in recent months and is unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, since losing to Glasgow Rangers in Europe at the end of September.

That form has seen them climb to seventh in the table, with former Real Madrid midfielder Isco their main inspiration.

A point in Prague would be enough to put Betis into the knockout stage of the tournament, and with William Carvalho joining the injury list on Sunday, coach Manuel Pellegrini will rotate his squad.

Injuries to Rui Silva and Claudio Bravo saw third choice keeper Fran Vieites given his chance in La Liga last weekend and he will play again after some match-winning saves against Las Palmas.



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Title: Betis, Villarreal aim to book places in Europa League last-32

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