Lille confident of upset against Liverpool

With only one loss in its last 16 European home games, Lille is

confident ahead of its clash with five-time European champion

Liverpool.

Lying fifth in the French league and vying for a Champions

League berth next season, Lille players won’t be tagged as

underdogs against a Liverpool team experiencing a season to forget

at home that has been plagued with inconsistency.

The Reds will travel to France for the first leg of their

last 16 Europa League match following a disappointing 1-0 loss to

Wigan in the Premier League that clearly irritated manager Rafa

Benitez.

“Sometimes how you play depends on the other teams, on

quality, match fitness and things like this,” Benitez said after

the team’s ninth loss in the league that left the Merseyside team

in sixth place in the standings. “But you cannot afford not to

fight from the first minute until the last because it is really

important for the club and all of us.”

Lille advanced to the third round of the competition at the

expense of Fenerbahce courtesy of a late strike from Adil Rami that

gave them a 3-2 aggregate win. Lille coach Rudi Garcia said

afterward that the prospect of meeting the Reds in the next round

really inspired his players.

“Liverpool was a real motivator for us, it pushed us on,”

said Garcia, who knows Benitez well after spending time with the

Spaniard as a trainee coach in Valencia, Spain.

“European competition is all about big emotion. Now we’ll

have the pleasure of traveling to Anfield and we can’t wait to get

there.”

Hit by flu earlier this week, central defender Rami has

recovered and is expected to play while midfielder Ludovic Obraniak

is back from a hip injury. But Garcia will be missing several key

players including Ivory Coast midfielder Gervinho (knee) and

defender Mathieu Debuchy (ribs).

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun may also miss the match

because of an ankle injury but central defender Daniel Agger should

be able to play after remaining on the bench against Wigan because

he was sick.

Liverpool dropped into the Europa League after being

eliminated from the Champions League, notably losing at home to

Olympique Lyon in the group stages.

“It was a surprise the other day (against Wigan), but

hopefully it was just a blip and we will see the real Liverpool on

Thursday,” Benitez said.

The two clubs have never met in a competitive match but Lille

is used to English clubs, having played Liverpool’s bitter rivals

Manchester United six times.

About 1,000 Liverpool fans are expected at Lille’s stadium

where 400 police officers and 300 stewards will be deployed.