Enjoying a new lease of life under recently-appointed coach Diego Simeone, winger-turned-full-back Juanfran said Club Atlético de Madrid have designs on repeating their 2010 UEFA Europa League success as they gear up to meet Hannover 96.
Having joined from CA Osasuna in early 2011 as a replacement for crowd favourite Simão, Juanfran failed to cement a regular place at the Vicente Calderón until Simeon’e arrival in December. The 27-year-old former Real Madrid CF trainee has since featured in 16 of Simeone's 17 games in charge, with the defender only missing last weekend's 1-0 Liga defeat at Real Zaragoza through suspension.
"I was at home for that league game and was going crazy watching it on the television," the 2004 UEFA European Under-19 Championship winner with Spain admitted. "When I got back together with my team-mates in training afterwards I spoke to each and every one of them, and what we all agreed on was that the most important thing was that we beat Hannover on Thursday."
Juanfran's determination may stem from his frustration at failing to prove his worth to Simeone’s immediate predecessors at Atlético, Quique Sánchez Flores and Gregorio Manzano, but he has now gone a long way to winning the club's supporters over.
"I have to admit to feeling very proud, especially given what it took to get here," he said. "
My first steps at the club were not what I thought they would be but I kept working hard in the hope that people would see just how much effort I put in."
That industry was highlighted during Atlético's 11 March league win at home against Granada CF. Gasping with thirst in the game's final throes, the former RCD Espanyol midfielder approached the crowd begging for water and after receiving several shoulder shrugs was finally helped out by a young fan. "This kid came towards me with a bottle and it gave me the strength to get through the last ten minutes," Juanfran explained.
It provided the stimulus for a run that took him from deep inside his own area and past three opponents before setting up Falcao for a late goal to seal a 2-0 win. "I went up to that young fan to give him my shirt after that," he added. "It was a moment that thrilled us all."
An eighth successive home victory in Europe is the next goal for Los Colchoneros who, according to Juanfran, are well prepared for their Bundesliga visitors on Thursday. "Not one detail about Hannover has escaped our coach," he said.
"We know how they operate and we are going to play our game in order to combat that. If we do what we have to and do it well, we will have more than a good chance of getting through to the semi-finals."
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