Despite a one-goal lead from last week's first leg against AS Roma, Gaizka Mendieta believes Middlesbrough FC "haven't done anything yet" and is warning his team-mates to expect a stern test at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday night.
Yakubu Ayegbeni's penalty at the Riverside stadium gave the English Premiership side a slender advantage to take to Rome, but Mendieta says the hardest part of the task is yet to come. "The first leg was a good game and a great result, but we still haven't done anything," the midfielder told uefa.com. "One-nil is very good but not enough. We still have to play the second leg and that will be very tough, both in terms of the atmosphere and the team we will face. But we have a reasonable chance of going through; scoring a goal and defending well will be the key factors."
Season with Lazio
The 31-year-old Spanish international is well placed to assess the size of the challenge, having spent a season with Roma's city rivals S.S. Lazio in 2001/02. Mendieta failed to make the anticipated impact with Lazio despite a €42m transfer fee, starting only 12 league matches and failing to score. Nevertheless, he is keen to return to the Olimpico, explaining: "I'm looking forward to playing in a great stadium, against a great team and in a great atmosphere, and I hope things go well for us. My season with Lazio wasn't the best for me on the pitch, but I'm happy to have experienced it and I had good times there as well, so I'm looking forward to going back."
Steve McClaren's men have been in fine form in the UEFA Cup, conceding only two goals in seven games, and prior to Sunday's 2-1 league defeat at Charlton Athletic FC, keeping clean sheets in six of their previous eight matches. Mendieta believes that has been essential to the club's recent improvement, saying: "We've done well defensively in the last few weeks and kept a few clean sheets, so hopefully we can do that again in Rome. When you're winning games and not conceding goals that gives you a lot of confidence, especially when you manage to do it for a few games in a row."
In addition, strikers Yakubu, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka have given Middlesbrough a cutting edge, contributing 19 goals between them in 2006, and Mendieta feels that ruthlessness could ultimately prove decisive as the side aim to reach the UEFA Cup quarter-finals for the first time. "Our three strikers are all very dangerous, and that is a big advantage," he said. "Roma were more or less what we expected; they sat back, defended and tried to hurt us on the counterattack and we did very well to stop them. It was important to defend well, not conceding was vital - as was scoring early.
In Rome, one goal could be enough; if we score it will make life very difficult for them, although the same is true for us if they score first."
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