RC Deportivo La Coruña midfield player Juan Carlos Valerón insists the Spanish club will never have a better chance of winning the UEFA Champions League, following their breathtaking quarter-final defeat of AC Milan.
The 4-0 second-leg win at the Riazor stadium, which ensured a 5-4 aggregate triumph, will go down in Champions League history and, according to the Spanish international, that performance has created a feelgood factor among the squad as they prepare for tonight's semi-final first leg at FC Porto.
"To knock out the champions that way has given us a tremendous lift as we approach our first ever semi-final," the former Club Atlético de Madrid playmaker told uefa.com. "Deportivo have played many good games during the last three years but none as important as the Milan game.
"Nobody could have imagined we'd get this far but now we are here, we have to try and win the Champions League. To win the most important club competition of them all is very important to us because, for once, a Spanish team that is not Real Madrid [CF] or [FC] Barcelona can do it."
Valerón was an inspiration at the heart of midfield against Milan and his 35th-minute header - Depor's second goal of the night - provided the launchpad for victory. With four goals to chase, the team's strong mentality had a major bearing in overcoming such an obstacle, he said.
"I think the Milan players were already thinking ahead and they couldn't react to the mental strength we showed on the night," explained the 28-year-old. "We hadn't given up hope and to score so early in the game gave us the confidence to go for victory. Another secret to our success was the fact we didn't allow them to play or have possession.
Certain of victory
"Once I'd scored our second goal, we really believed we could do it - that it was an opportunity for us to make history. And when Alberto Luque made it 3-0, we continued playing in a way that was so mentally focused. We knew then that victory could be ours for sure."
Now, though, UEFA Cup holders FC Porto stand between Depor and a trip to the AufSchalke Arena in Gelsenkirchen on 26 May. Having qualified from Group F alongside Real Madrid CF, the Portuguese side have knocked out Manchester United FC and Olympique Lyonnais to set up this all-Iberian encounter.
Valerón does not underestimate Porto and is particularly wary of their midfield playmaker Deco as well as the much-vaunted ability of coach José Mourinho. "Mourinho knows the Spanish league very well and how we play, while Deco is someone we have to pay particular attention to," he said.
Should his words be heeded and Depor progress to the final, it will signal the greatest day in the club's 98-year history. Either Chelsea FC or AS Monaco FC will be the opposition, but should the Galician team get there, Valerón is not worried who they face.
"We conceded eight goals in Monaco, which shows how strong they are, but Chelsea are also a hard team to beat," he said. "
It doesn't look as if we can win the Primera División this season but winning the Champions League would certainly make up for that!"
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