By John Leonidou
A player who caught the eye at last summer's FIFA World Cup, Costa Rican international Mauricio Wright has subsequently had a key role in AEK Athens FC's unbeaten run in European competition this season.
The versatile 32-year-old defender has started all their matches, from the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, via the first group stage, to the fourth round of the UEFA Cup where they face Spanish side Málaga CF in February.
Here uefa.com catches up with the one-time star of American Major League Soccer franchises San Jose Earthquakes and New England Revolution, to hear about his first impressions of the European game.
uefa.com: What is your mid-term report on this, your debut season in European football?
Mauricio Wright: It has been a great experience for me at AEK - playing in both the Champions League and UEFA Cup. I am very happy at the club and the team is getting better all the time.
uefa.com: Given the fact AEK remain unbeaten in Europe, how disappointing was it to miss out on the Champions League second group stage after drawing all six matches against KRC Genk, AS Roma and Real Madrid CF?
MW: No one expected AEK to do as well as we did in the Champions League. We played some very good football and had the chance to get to the second round. Playing against sides like Real Madrid and Roma sometimes gives you a big lift - but while you can raise your game, it doesn't always guarantee you a result.
uefa.com: What did it mean to you to play in the Champions League?
MW: It was a great experience - the best tournament in the world and a great feeling to go up against some of the biggest clubs in the world like Real Madrid, with all their star players. The standard in the Greek league is very good, but you cannot compare it with the quality of the Champions League.
uefa.com: Who are your favourites to go on and win the final at Old Trafford in May?
MW: You never know what might happen in a major tournament like the Champions League. But I think Real Madrid, despite their poor start to the second phase, and Manchester United [FC] are looking good along with AC Milan. One of those three should win it.
uefa.com: What were the club's goals at the start of the season and what are they now?
MW: They are the same, in that we want to win the championship in Greece and achieve the goals we have set for ourselves in Europe. That now means the UEFA Cup - we have to see off Málaga in the fourth round and focus on doing well in that competition. The onus is always on us, as AEK players, to win our next match. It is a big responsibility.
uefa.com: Turning to the international arena, can Costa Rica build on their performance at the World Cup, where they won one match but many admirers for their attacking play?
MW: It is hard to say, because the domestic situation in Costa Rican football is not always easy. However, we always try to play good football and now have players all over the world. I think we did as well as we could have at the World Cup, missing out on the second phase only because Turkey scored more goals than us. And we were the only team to score more than once against Brazil, and that shows we did ourselves proud.
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