Favourites for the Liga title and set for their first European Cup semi-final since 1974, Club Atlético de Madrid are treading unfamiliar waters ahead of the visit of Chelsea FC.
Nobody is savouring the club's inexorable rise this term more than midfielder Koke, an Atleti fan from birth who scored the key goal in the quarter-finals against FC Barcelona. "To play a UEFA Champions League semi-final with the team you have supported as a child is a dream," beamed the 22-year-old. "If I'm picked it will be an incredible experience for me. Tomorrow could be the most important game of my life."
Tuesday's semi-final first leg at Estadio Vicente Calderón will see the long-awaited return of Fernando Torres, who struck 84 times in 214 Liga appearances for the Rojiblancos before joining Liverpool FC in 2007. "Fernando Torres has always been an inspiration for me," said Koke. "I'm sure all the fans will be happy to see him here. We wish him all the luck in the world, but not in the game."
Diego Simeone's men have garnered a reputation for being intense, defensively disciplined and uncompromising. Chelsea share the same virtues, making for "a very even match" according to midfielder Raúl Garcia. "Chelsea play more or less the same way as us. It will be a physical game," he added. "We don't fear them; we are talking about football. They are a strong rival but instead of fear we have respect."
Atlético have never lost at home to English sides and outclassed the Blues 4-1 in the 2012 UEFA Super Cup. Their midfield linchpin is not taking anything for granted, however, as he strives to subdue Chelsea's star-studded lineup. "They have very good players; highlighting just one is difficult. We know how we have to prepare. We know we will have to look to have a good defence and makes sure they don't score," said Garcia, who is banking on the home crowd being in fine voice.
The 27-year-old added: "We are aware of the importance of the match but we must only focus on the game. We need to block out information from the press and other sources. We need to concentrate only on playing the game."
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