Parma FC's Francesco Ruopolo and Giuseppe Cardone are ready for an improbable UEFA Cup semi-final.
By Paolo Menicucci
Last season Francesco Ruopolo was playing in Serie C1 with AS Cittadella and could only dream of being a star in Serie A. One year on, the 22-year-old forward has already appeared seven times in the UEFA Cup and has helped Parma FC to reach an unexpected semi-final against PFC CSKA Moskva.
"I was talking with some of my team-mates yesterday and we said that several great players have never reached a UEFA Cup semi-final," he told uefa.com. "It's an incredible opportunity for us. We are a very young side but you never know if we will have another chance to play such an important game."
Before joining Parma last summer, Ruopolo had scored ten goals in two Serie C1 campaigns. This term he has yet to find the net but hopes the game against the Russian giants will be the perfect occasion to score his first goal in a Parma shirt. "I'm still looking for my first goal and I hope to score in these two semi-finals," he said. "However I can only be pleased because I have played seven times in the UEFA Cup. I could hardly imagine something like this a year ago."
He added: "The key to our good UEFA Cup campaign is that several young players wanted to show how good they were, especially those who have had less chances to play in domestic games. We have already achieved a great result by reaching the semi-finals but winning the UEFA Cup would be a dream."
Ruopolo, however, is aware that the game against CSKA will be very difficult. "They postponed their last domestic league match in order to prepare for this game in the best possible way," he said. "That means they are worried about us and they care about winning the UEFA Cup as much as we do."
Parma captain Giuseppe Cardone agrees with his young team-mate. "It will be a difficult game because CSKA are undoubtedly strong and especially because we are forced to play this semi-final without several key players due to injuries and to our difficult situation in Serie A [Parma are hovering in the relegation zone]," the 31-year-old defender told uefa.com. "However I'm sure that our young players will again give their best and help the team to achieve another fantastic result as they have done throughout the UEFA Cup campaign."
Cardone was very important for Parma, helping the young players with his experience and scoring two important goals in the victories against Besiktas JK and Sevilla FC. "I was eager to play in the UEFA Cup because last season I could not make my contribution due to injuries," he explained. "I'm not used to playing in Europe and I don't score many goals, so it has been just great."
Parma are already satisfied with their European campaign but they do not want to sit back now that they are close to winning the UEFA Cup for a third time. "Reaching the semi-finals with so many young players is a source of pride for the club, the town and our youth system," Cardone said. "Winning the trophy would be fantastic. We know it will be difficult but we don't want throw away what we have achieved up to now."