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Yeste gives Athletic support

Francisco Yeste is hoping to lead Athletic Club Bilbao to success in the UEFA Cup.

By Darío López & Andy Hall

Athletic Club Bilbao's infamous San Mamés stadium is set to host another passionate night of football with Italian side Parma FC the honourable guests.

Bilbao star
Perhaps one of the most in-form players for the Bilbainos is flamboyant 24-year-old midfield player Francisco Yeste. His performances during the past two seasons have made him one of the jewels in Ernesto Valvarde's young, primarily homegrown squad and recently earned him a call up to the Spain squad for two FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Special night
"Things seem to have been turning out well for me and I feel as if I have matured as a player over the past 12 months," he told "Being called up for Spain was great even though I didn't make my debut. I just have to make sure that I keep playing at a high level in order to be in the running for the World Cup finals. Now I cannot wait for the Parma match to arrive because it's going to be special for the players and for the fans. It's important that we start on a good foot by getting a win."

European classic
Parma arrive in Bilbao on the back of a miserable start in Italy. Silvio Baldini's side are second from bottom in Serie A with just three points but Yeste is taking no chances. "We have to block out any thoughts about them being weakened because whatever happens, it's going to be a complicated match," he said.

Difficult group
The draw was not kind to Athletic. Along with Parma, they have drawn FC Steaua Bucuresti, R. Standard de Liège and Besiktas JK. Yeste remains undaunted, however. "It's a challenging group but making sure of the three points from the home ties and getting a couple of positive results away should see us through to the knockout phase," he said.

Besiktas threat
"Generally speaking there doesn't seem to be a clear favourite," Yeste added. "I'm sure that Vicente del Bosque will be briefing Besiktas on our game but we know about his methods and how he will be preparing his side. The away matches look the toughest - Parma will be difficult but at least we will have our own fans behind us."

New format
They certainly will. European nights in Bilbao are major events; an Athletic win should cue the start of an all-night party. Yeste shares the city's passion for football. To celebrate his first-round goal against Trabzonspor he lowered his shorts to give the crowd a fleeting glimpse of his red and white club underpants. It was a strange but unmistakable sign of his commitment.

Staying home
"Everyone would like to be with one of the big European clubs - it's much easier to win silverware and in the end that is every sportsman's goal," he explained. "But I am quite happy continuing here. It's where I grew up and I think we now have a team that has a chance of winning something."