Club Atlético de Madrid coach Diego Simeone says the opening leg of his team's quarter-final against Hannover 96 will be the perfect time for their pedigree to come to the fore.
Winners of the inaugural UEFA Europa League two years ago, the Spanish side are once again in the hunt for the trophy having been reinvigorated since Simeone's appointment in December. Trouble-free aggregate victories against S.S. Lazio and Beşiktaş JK so far in the knockout phase have only served to reinforce the belief that Atlético are where they belong.
"It's a beautiful stage on which to play and it requires a lot of responsibility," said Simeone. "
At this stage, it sorts the men from the boys and it's time for our players to stand up and be counted. I hope they can respond adequately, and that hope, enthusiasm and knowing the importance of just what they are playing will mask any tiredness they are feeling."
Buoyed by the return of influential playmaker Diego on Sunday in an otherwise disappointing 1-0 defeat at Real Zaragoza, Simeone also has Tiago and Arda Turan at his disposal once more. He may well need all his key players to be at the top of their game against a Hannover side who kicked off only their second European campaign with a play-off triumph against Sevilla FC.
"They are solid on the flanks and can strike dangerously, particularly down the left. They play a good long-ball game, with [Lars] Stindl instrumental. They also have quick, powerful forwards and are good in the air – a classic German side. They have scored in nearly every game and we will need to be switched on from the start. We are hopeful and full of enthusiasm, especially knowing a lot of fans are coming to support us."
There will also be a sizeable German contingent at the Vicente Calderón, and Hannover boss Mirko Slomka is determined to reward their passion and commitment. "Atlético do not have any shortfalls, either in attack or defence, and we know we are not favourites," he said. "But we will do our best. We want our supporters, who are here in number, to go home with something positive. We expect to score, for starters."
Having registered nine goals in their last three games, Hannover have not been struggling on that front, even if they were beaten 2-1 at FC Bayern München on Saturday. Slomka said that proved his side "are now able to hold our own against great teams", and he hopes to underline that improvement over the next eight days. "Hannover are back in international football and we are among the best teams left in the competition.
If we are brave, we have an opportunity to do something great. I'm sure we will."
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