By Ken Martin
Fresh from his first hat-trick for Valencia CF on Sunday, Brazilian striker Ricardo Oliveira is aiming to continue that form as they open their UEFA Cup second-round tie against Maccabi Haifa FC.
UEFA Cup focus
The 23-year-old joined from Santos FC in August for a reported €4m, and his treble in the 5-0 win against RCD Mallorca took his Valencia tally to five, sending last season's UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists back to the top of the Primera División. But now his focus switches to the UEFA Cup and Maccabi in the Mestalla tonight, when he seeks his first goal in European competition.
'Good run of luck'
He told uefa.com: "It is my first year in Spain and Europe and I thought it would take me a while to adapt to a new style of play and culture, but in almost two months I have already proved I can be a dangerous striker. I have had a good run of luck and I just hope this patch can continue against Maccabi."
Paying tribute to his club colleagues, he added: "I can only score with the help of my team-mates.
At Valencia the team spirit is very strong and everyone has played their part in our victories this season. Individual praise is always nice but the most important thing is the team."
Valencia overcame AIK Solna in the first round, winning 1-0 home and away. Maccabi, meanwhile, pulled off an impressive comeback in Slovenia in their second leg against NK Publikum as goals from Idan Tal and Giovani Rosso secured a 2-2 draw on the night and 4-3 aggregate victory.
"Maccabi are not going to be an easy team to face in the second round," said Oliveira. "In this competition the games are becoming more and more difficult and we cannot take anything for granted at this stage. If we can focus now on getting a good result at the Mestalla then that will give us some breathing space [for the second leg]. Maccabi have brought in some great players this year like Dante López and Giovani, so we will have to be careful. But if we work as we did against Mallorca at the weekend then I believe we can get a very good result."
Valencia may have missed out on the Champions League this time around after being pipped to a top-four Primera División place by RC Celta de Vigo, but Oliveira is delighted just to be involved in continental competition. "
I am just happy to be playing in Europe," he said. "And I know that the commitment of the rest of the team in this competition is the same for every game we play. I know that there has not been a European trophy at the club for a number of years and this season we feel we have a good chance of winning in Europe."
Still, whatever the pressure, Oliveira is staying upbeat. "To play good football you have to be happy," said Oliveira. "And I feel very happy and relaxed at the moment. My philosophy is that if you keep smiling, you keep scoring."
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