José Manuel Reina is convinced Liverpool FC can rule Europe again but first they must get past PFC CSKA Sofia.
By Brian Brownstein
Liverpool FC may only be playing in the third qualifying round against PFC CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria, but their new goalkeeper José Manuel Reina is already thinking about his side winning a second consecutive UEFA Champions League crown.
The Spanish goalkeeper was still playing in the Primera División with Villarreal CF when Rafael Benítez's side lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup for the fifth time in Istanbul following their penalty shootout victory against AC Milan in the final, but he is already convinced his team can make it two in a row.
"Rafael Benítez has done some excellent work in European competition over the last few years and I see no reason why that can't continue," he told uefa.com. "The manager wants to make an even bigger mark in the game by winning the Champions League again and with this group of players I believe we can do it.
"I believe in this team," added the 22-year-old who was rated by Benítez as the best goalkeeper in Spanish football. "We deserve to be called European champions."
However, if they are to reach that pinnacle again in 2005/06, Reina's side must first negotiate a way past CSKA, who knocked reigning champions Nottingham Forest FC out of the competition in 1980/81 and did the same to Liverpool the following season. The goalkeeper is not unimpressed.
He said: "CSKA Sofia now stand in our way of reaching the group stage. The away game in Sofia is my biggest concern. It will be very difficult over there, so we will need to be very disciplined to go through. At this early stage of the season you just don't know how dangerous these ties are going to be."
One of Reina's Spanish team-mates, Xabi Alonso, agreed. "We are a bit lucky because it was not one of the hardest draws we could have had, but in football no game is ever easy," he said. "Bulgarian players are noted for having high levels of individual skill which always makes them dangerous opponents.
"Nobody at Liverpool can afford to be over-confident," added Alonso. None the less, the odds seem to be stacked in Liverpool's favour, and with a second leg at Anfield to be held on 23 August, the Premiership side have high hopes of returning to the group stage.
That will be unfamiliar territory for Reina, who has played all of his European football to date in the UEFA Intertoto Cup and UEFA Cup. However, with a strong support network at Anfield, not least among them goalkeeping coach José Ochoterena whom he worked with in the Spanish national team, he feels secure.
"I feel very comfortable at the club," said Reina. "The rest of the Liverpool players have given me lots of support making me feel part of the group. I'm very happy that I chose to come here. Liverpool was always a club that appealed to me, even before they won the Champions League.
"This is one of Europe's biggest clubs and the manager convinced me that his project is going to be huge," he added. "I also shared many conversations with Liverpool's Spanish players, like Xabi, who all told me that I should sign for them."