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By ESPN Staff

Evra singles out Villarreal's Rossi for praise

Ahead of Tuesday's Champions League Group E showdown between Villarreal and Manchester United at El Madrigal, United defender Patrice Evra has paid tribute to former United team-mate Giuseppe Rossi, insisting he never doubted that the striker would eventually grace the biggest stage.

Frustrated at his lack of first-team appearances and with his route blocked by Wayne Rooney and the arrival of Carlos Tevez, Rossi quit Old Trafford for Villarreal in 2007.

Thankfully, Sir Alex Ferguson made sure a buy-back clause was inserted into the £6.6million deal. For Rossi has gone on to be a star performer in both La Liga and the Champions League for the Yellow Submarine.

And last week the US-born 21-year-old made his first start for Italy in a friendly against Greece in Athens.

While some United fans may be surprised at the startling elevation of a forward who played just five times for the Red Devils, Evra is not shocked at all.

''I knew he was going to be a good player,'' he said. ''It was easy. Everybody knows Giuseppe Rossi. If you give him the ball in the box he will score every time.

''He is such a good professional. I am not surprised what he is doing now. When he left Manchester United I could only wish him all the best, but not against us [on Tuesday].''

If United are not careful, Rossi will fire Villarreal to top spot in Group E.

As both sides are level on points, needing a draw from their remaining two games to ensure qualification for the knockout stage, a win for either will see them finish in pole position no matter what the outcome of the final match next month.

A scoring draw would nudge United ahead after a goalless meeting in September, a position unlikely to be affected by Aalborg's trip to Old Trafford in December, which would allow the defending champions to claim home advantage in the second leg of their last-16 tie in the spring.

With Dimitar Berbatov already ruled out, Ferguson will have his fingers crossed that Cristiano Ronaldo recovers from the leg injury that forced him out of Saturday's draw at Aston Villa.

However, if Ronaldo does not make it, the United boss could find himself relying on his defenders to keep Rossi out.

In theory, it should not be too difficult given Rossi left because the players in front of him were better.

But, as Evra points out, that does not necessarily mean he is much worse.

''I sometimes say to the strikers here 'Thank God I am a defender','' said the former Monaco full-back. It is not easy to break through at Manchester United.

''When I arrived Gabriel Heinze and Mikael Silvestre were already here so you had three players for one position. You see the strikers and it is even worse. We have Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney. Cristiano can play up there and Ryan Giggs as well.

''You see all the names and realise just how hard it is. Believe me, just because Giuseppe Rossi did not play very often for Manchester United is not really a reflection on his talent.''

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