WEST Ham are close to finalising a pre-season friendly against La Liga runners-up Villarreal CF.

The Irons are expected to welcome the Spaniards to Upton Park on Saturday, August 9, as the club complete their preparations for the new season with their now annual prestige fixture.

The Hammers had originally been expected to line-up against Portuguese champions FC Porto, but it now appears that Villarreal will be the visitors a week before the start of the new Barclays Premier League season.

Under the management of Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, the team from a small town just outside Valencia have qualified for next season's UEFA Champions League after beating Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla to second place behind champions Real Madrid.

Pellegrini, who has been in charge at El Madrigal since 2004, led Villarreal to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2006, where "The Yellow Submarine" lost to Arsenal.

Led by former Gunners star Robert Pires and long-serving captain Josico, the Spaniards have a multi-talented squad at their disposal.

Spain Euro 2008 stars Joan Capdevila and Santi Carzola, Turkey striker Nihat Kahveci and Danish veteran Jon Dahl Tommasson are all expected to appear at the Boleyn Ground, while new signings Brazilian Edmilson and American starlet Jozy Altidore could also be in the Villarreal line-up.

In last season's corresponding fixture, a fit-again Dean Ashton scored his first Upton Park goal in more than a year as West Ham beat Italians AS Roma 2-1.

Alan Curbishley's side have a busy pre-season schedule to look forward to, with the club flying to North America for a two-match tour in mid-July.

The Irons will take on the Columbus Crew (July 20) and MLS All-Stars in Toronto (July 24) during a week-long stay, before heading back to England for friendlies at Peterborough United (July 29), Southampton (August 1) and Ipswich Town (August 4) before Villarreal come to the East End.