An instrumental figure in ending FC Steaua Bucureşti's five-year exile from the UEFA Champions League, Federico Piovaccari is relishing his first experience of Europe's premier club competition – at the age of 29.
Having turned out for, among others, US Triestina Calcio, AS Cittadella and Brescia Calcio in an itinerant career, the Italian striker had never played top-flight football until he joined the Romanian title holders this summer – his fourth loan move from UC Sampdoria in the last three seasons.
Things have quickly got better for the former FC Internazionale Milano trainee, though. On his first start for Laurenţiu Reghecampf’s team he scored against FK Vardar in the second qualifying round second leg, following this up with a goal in each instalment of the UEFA Champions League play-off versus Legia Warszawa.
He describes his early strike in the return match in Poland as the "most important" of his career. It was one that helped the Army Men through to the group stage on away goals and led to them being placed in Group E alongside FC Basel 1893, Chelsea FC and FC Schalke 04.
Speaking about the 3-0 loss at Schalke on matchday one, a game which was goalless until the 67th minute, Piovaccari told UEFA.com: "It was an incredible feeling playing in such a spectacular stadium – which, until a short time ago, I was only seeing on TV.
"So it was very emotional, although the result wasn't good for us, but we're satisfied that for most of the match we played at the same level as a really strong team."
Defeat in Gelsenkirchen was followed by another, 4-0 at home to Chelsea a fortnight later, a game in which Piovaccari was withdrawn at half-time. If Steaua's return to Europe's elite has not gone as intended so far, the forward is "convinced" more favourable times lie ahead, starting at the Arena Națională in the first of back-to-back fixtures against Basel on 22 October.
"We know what we're capable of," he said. "We're convinced we'll do well in the next Champions League matches; we'll see how they go. We also have to focus on the other competitions like the domestic league and cup. So there are many objectives we have set ourselves as a team. We don't want to give up trying to get as far as possible."
Click on the video player above to watch the full interview with Piovaccari.