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By ESPN Staff
Jan 22, 2008

Barca Copa del Rey challenge suits Villarreal

MADRID, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Villarreal are confident their ability to raise their game against the big clubs puts them in a strong position for the King's Cup quarter-final first leg against Barcelona.

'The stronger teams suit us because they have the same ambitions as us and we can find space against them if we perform well,' Villarreal's French midfielder Robert Pires said.

'We will continue to play the same way as we have against other sides. We shouldn't fear anyone.'

Manuel Pellegrini's team thumped regional rivals Valencia 3-0 on Saturday to go third in the Primera Liga, five points behind second-placed Barca, who they took apart 3-1 at home in the league last October.

Barca knocked out the holders Sevilla on away goals last week but although they are struggling for confidence and fluency in their play, are unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions.

Thierry Henry scored the only goal in a hard-earned 1-0 win over Racing Santander on Sunday, as he continued his return to form while Argentine Lionel Messi put in a substitute appearance after a month out with injury.

The quarter-final first legs have been scheduled with two on Wednesday and two on Thursday, but Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao are unhappy at having to play on Thursday and then again in the league on Saturday. The issue has yet to be resolved.

Nine-times winners Atletico Madrid have made no secret that the Cup is one of their top objectives for this season and travel to face misfiring Valencia.

Ronald Koeman's outfit are going through a painful restructuring exercise and are without a win in eight in the league, though they were unlucky to fall 1-0 away to Atletico just over a week ago.

Last season's finalists Getafe host Real Mallorca, who caused the upset of the last round when they dumped out Primera Liga leaders Real Madrid 3-1 on aggregate with home and away wins.

Racing Santander host north coast rivals Athletic Bilbao, who have won the competition 23 times.

Racing boast the league's tightest defence at home with only four goals conceded in the league while Bilbao needed penalties to beat 2006 winners Espanyol in the previous round.