FC Schalke 04 know they are up against it as they take on Athletic Club but Hannover 96 are excited to be meeting Club Atlético de Madrid in the other Spain v Germany UEFA Europa League quarter-final.
Athletic followed up a 3-2 win at Manchester United FC with a 2-1 round of 16 second-leg victory in Bilbao on Thursday. They now travel to another of Europe's impressive venues, the Arena AufSchalke, for the first leg on 29 March. Defender Andoni Iraola said: "Schalke are very strong, especially at their own stadium, where the fans really get behind them. It will be wonderful to play there. We like those type of atmospheres."
Schalke's coach was impressed with the way Athletic disposed of the English champions. "They deservedly won both of their games against Manchester United – that says a lot about the quality of Athletic," said Huub Stevens. "They are a very good team."
The Gelsenkirchen club's full-back Sergio Escudero did not disagree. "Fernando Llorente is an outstanding player, but they have several quality individuals and are currently working well together as a unit. The signature of coach Marcelo Bielsa is all over them." However, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the UEFA Europa League's nine-goal top scorer, is not quaking in his boots just yet. "I played against Athletic once with Real Madrid and I scored two goals in a 5-2 win, but that was some time ago," he recalled.
For Schalke sporting director Horst Held, the aim of reaching the Bucharest final remains in place: "If you want to accomplish a mission like this, then you have to accept that your opponents get tougher the closer you get to the end of the competition."
The inaugural UEFA Europa League winners in 2010, Atlético appear to be daunting opposition for Hannover, yet having come this far in only their second European campaign, Mirko Slomka's side are taking it in their stride – mindful they beat Sevilla FC to get to the group stage. "We are up against the 2010 winners so it is obvious who the favourites are," said former Schalke boss Slomka, who may yet encounter his old team in the final. "However, we showed against Sevilla what we can achieve as underdogs."
Atlético midfielder Gabi said: "Hannover are good competitors and it will be hard. We will respect for Hannover but we also know that at Atlético it is up to us to try and win no matter who we play. We want to give our fans something to be happy about."
Elsewhere, FC Metalist Kharkiv are the leading marksmen in the UEFA Europa League yet enter their tie against Sporting Clube de Portugal as outsiders. "I had a little feeling before the draw that we would play Sporting," said coach Myron Markevich. Defender Milan Obradović, meanwhile, is taking heart from the result of his club's last Lisbon trip.
"I remember our match against Benfica [in the UEFA Cup group stage] three years ago," he said. "We started poorly but found our rhythm as the game wore on and won 1-0. I think Sporting play a similar attacking style to Benfica. They knocked out Manchester City so we face a really tough tie, but it will be very interesting."
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