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“Villarreal are very dangerous at El Madrigal” – Interview with Rafinha

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FC Bayern have only faced Villarreal twice before in their 122-year history. The sides now meet again on Wednesday evening in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie. The Reds and the Yellow Submarine first encountered each other in the 2011/12 group stage, with Jupp Heynckes' men winning both games (2-0 and 3-1). One of the goalscorers in the 2-0 win at the Estadio de la Ceramica – also known as El Madrigal – was a 26-year-old Brazilian who got his first Bayern goal and would become a fan favourite and Champions League winner. Yes, Rafinha!

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Rafinha (with Franck Ribery) scored to make it 2-0 in the first-ever meeting with Villarreal in 2011.

We spoke to the now 36-year-old ahead of Wednesday's meeting to talk about the Bayern of then and now. Rafa scored six times in his eight seasons in Munich but now lives with his family in Rio de Janeiro and plays for Sao Paulo.

Interview with Rafinha

Servus, Rafa! You scored your only Champions League goal for Bayern away at Villarreal in 2011. What are your memories of that 2-0 win?
"I still remember the goal well. I nutmegged a defender and then hit it with my right foot. It was a strange situation for me. I started on the bench and then came on for the injured Daniel van Buyten and had a super game. It was one of my first games for Bayern and I scored. Right-backs don't normally score many goals. I kind of left my calling card with that goal [laughs]. Villarreal also had a good team in 2011, but Jupp prepared us so well. It was a nice moment."

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What did it feel like joining Bayern Munich in 2011?
"Of course, German fans knew me from my time at Schalke, but it was a dream of mine to go to Bayern. Playing in the Champions League for Bayern is unforgettable. I only have good memories of my time there. Incredible that it turned into more than eight years."

How do you look back on your time at Bayern?
"I really miss the club, the people and all the staff. But I call old teammates every week. We played together for almost 10 years. We're like a family. I'm in touch with almost all my former teammates. I'm always in touch with players like Neuer, Müller or Lewy. We call each other quite often. The same with the physios. I chat to Giovane Elber almost every day. We're good friends. I might be in Brazil now, but half of my heart is still in Munich. We'll keep up this contact."

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The Brazilian won his greatest honour in a Bayern shirt at Wembley in 2013 with the Champions League title.

What can Bayern expect this season at El Madrigal?
"The atmosphere will be an important point. Bayern have to watch out. The home supporters will be up for it. Villarreal are very dangerous at El Madrigal. Bayern have to be focussed. It's only two games and it's all or nothing in the quarter-final. Of course, Bayern are favourites but they have to keep their feet on the ground and push, otherwise it'll be tough. It'd be super if they don't concede a goal. I'm sure they'll have a good game."

What do you think of Bayern this season?
"I still follow the Bundesliga and watch every Bayern game. Of course, I'll be watching against Villarreal in the Champions League as well. We're in good form at the moment and are ready for the Champions League. I'm deliberately saying 'we' because I still feel a part of the club. I'm sure we'll have a good quarter-final and that we've got a good chance of reaching the final. Of course, it's a long road but the team has experience and already won a lot. Now the big games are coming up. We know what it's about there. The team has also internalised Nagelsmann's style already. I just hope they get to the semi-finals."

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It was a tearful farewell as Rafinha’s last game at the Allianz Arena in 2019 couldn’t have been more emotional with the Bundesliga title won on the final day.

How are you doing right now at Sao Paulo?
"I'm doing well and never injured. Unfortunately, we lost the final of the state championship on Sunday, but we've got a good team and still a long season ahead of us. We can even win a title this season for Sao Paulo. I've still got two years on my contract and will see in December how fit I am. I'd like to play for two more years and then finish my career at a good level."

We also sat down with Jamal Musiala ahead of the quarter-final first leg:


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