If A. Académica de Coimbra gave any credence to statistics ahead of Thursday's UEFA Europa League Group B visit to Club Atlético de Madrid, they might decide not to head to Spain at all.
The 2012 UEFA Europa League winners are level on points with FC Barcelona at the top of the Spanish Liga and are in the midst of a UEFA-record run of 15 straight European victories – 14 in this competition plus the UEFA Super Cup against Chelsea FC. Coimbra, by contrast, are playing in Europe for the first time in 41 years and last won a continental fixture when they beat 1. FC Magdeburg 2-0 at home on 26 November 1969.
The Students – so named because of the club's roots in the local university – certainly know their history, but they are strong on philosophy, too. "Yes, us players have talked among ourselves about these historical records and we know it will be complicated," said striker Wilson Eduardo. "Atlético deserve our respect but it is up to us to try to surprise them and leave Madrid with a good result."
Wilson Eduardo scored the club's first UEFA Europa League goal in a 3-1 loss at FC Viktoria Plzeň on matchday one, and hopes he can build on that in the Spanish capital. "I work every day with the aim of scoring goals and helping Académica, and this game is no different from any other," said the Sporting Clube de Portugal loanee. "Knowing that we are up against the holders gives us an extra motivation, but the most important thing is that Académica leave the Vicente Calderón stadium with a positive result."
That will be no easy task, but Coimbra have previously created a stir in Europe – albeit before any members of the current squad, and indeed coach Pedro Emanuel, were born. They reached the quarter-finals of the 1969/70 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, losing 1-0 to Manchester City FC on aggregate, and while they were beaten 7-1 over two legs in the first round of the 1971/72 UEFA Cup – their only subsequent European campaign – the side that eliminated them, Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, made it all the way to the final.
They have now gone six games in Europe without a win since that Magdeburg success, but as they take on in-form Atlético forward Falcao, at least one stat is in their favour – during the Colombian international's awesome spell at FC Porto, he never scored against Os Estudantes. "Falcao is the best No9 in football at the moment and we know that he has scored ten goals in his last 11 games," said Wilson Eduardo. "We have been training all week to stop him."
The figures might not add up well for Académica, but there is always the chance that study could pay off in the final examination.
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