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By ESPN Staff

'It could have been worse', say Villarreal players

MADRID, April 20 (Reuters) - Villarreal still believe they can turn around their Champions League semi-final against Arsenal despite a poor performance in the 1-0 defeat at Highbury on Wednesday.

The Spanish side, playing in their first Champions League campaign, failed to spark and the players admitted they got off lightly with a narrow defeat by Arsene Wenger's team.

'They were all over us in the first 45 minutes and at the start of the second half,' midfielder Josico told reporters. 'We didn't play well and were too conservative.

'It would have been good to have scored a goal to allow us to be more relaxed in the second leg, but even without it I think we are capable of turning the tie around.'

Club captain Quique Alvarez agreed with his team mate's analysis. 'We didn't play well,' he told Spanish state television.

'We knew Arsenal were a great team and they defended very well and played on the break. But at least the result can be reversed and the tie is still open.'

Villarreal were never allowed to settle into their usual patient passing game as Arsenal hounded them down in midfield and successfully neutralised playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme.

The Londoners were rarely troubled, although they failed to build on defender Kolo Toure's close-range goal shortly before halftime.

While the Villarreal players concentrated on their below-par performance, coach Manuel Pellegrini, club president Fernando Roig and the Spanish media claimed referee Konrad Plautz had clearly damaged the Primera Liga side's chances.

Their complaints centred on the Austrian's decision to wave away a penalty appeal after Villarreal forward Jose Mari appeared to be brought down by Gilberto Silva on the fringe of the area on the stroke of halftime.

'Everyone could see that the referee made some bad decisions,' said Roig. 'Not only did he not award us the penalty when Jose Mari was fouled, but he never showed them a single yellow card.

'The good thing is that we are still in the tie and everything will be decided at the Madrigal. I'm convinced we can win.'

Pellegrini added. 'Arsenal made the most of home advantage but the fact that the referee didn't blow for a penalty on Jose Mari changed the course of the game.'

'The referee played a very important role with particular decisions but above all because of the general style of refereeing the game. He wasn't impartial.

'But we also have to say that we didn't play well and given that, the result isn't that bad. I hope we can have a good day at home and go through.'