Every European season throws up a surprise or two – and one result that definitely raised eyebrows was Levante UD's 3-0 UEFA Europa League round of 32 first-leg dismissal of Olympiacos FC last week.
The outcome at the Estadi Ciutat de València – earned by Pedro Ríos's early strike, a José Barkero penalty and Obafemi Martins's 56th-minute effort – leaves Juan Ignacio Martínez's side on the verge of the last 16.
Midfielder Barkero was one of the hosts' outstanding performers, contributing not just a goal but two assists in what proved a memorable win for the Granotes. "I wouldn't call myself the Andrés Iniesta or Mesut Özil of Levante," the 33-year-old told UEFA.com. "I am the Barkero of Levante and that's more than enough for me.
"The truth is that I am happy to give assists but the clever movement of my team-mates counts for a lot. When you give a pass that leads to a goal it makes you doubly happy as you know you have helped a mate," continued Barkero, now with five UEFA Europa League assists for the Group L runners-up.
Despite the Liga team's resounding success against the Greek champions, Barkero – who won the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup with Spain alongside Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández – is keeping focused ahead of Thursday's rematch in Piraeus. "We managed to get a great result after a fantastic first leg but what we cannot forget is that Olympiacos lead the Greek league and played UEFA Champions League football this autumn," the former Real Sociedad de Fútbol, Albacete Balompié and CD Numancia player said.
Indeed, it was against Olympiacos that Barkero made his European bow for Real in the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League. He has fond memories of that trip to the Greek capital: "It's spectacular there – the fans create an incredible atmosphere which gives their players wings. I really hope we can get similar result to the 2-2 we achieved with Real against Olympiacos, as it would see Levante through.
"Our objective is to deliver a performance and to progress. We have been taking things game by game and hopefully we can continue to make the name of Levante echo in this competition for a few more rounds. For a club like ours, this is all incredible publicity."
Ninth in the Spanish table, the Valencia-based outfit have lost only one of nine matches (2-1 at Hannover 96) in this maiden European campaign, and Barkero and company are desperate to prolong the adventure. "Almost nobody predicted we would reach the group stage, let alone the round of 32 where we have beaten a team of Olympiacos's stature 3-0," he went on.
"After many years of suffering, this club, the fans and the players need to enjoy every minute of this run. Our coach has instilled a winning mentality into the group and never lets us relax. He keeps us motivated all the time. Let's see if we can continue along this path."
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