After years "in the shadows", Andrés Palop is delighted to be the centre of attention again as Sevilla FC face their second successive UEFA Cup final.
Good things come to those who wait. It may be an old saying but the look on the face of Andrés Palop shows it still holds true. The Sevilla FC goalkeeper was all smiles as he addressed the press at the club's training ground last week and understandably so.
'In the shadows'
After six seasons as understudy to Santiago Cañizares at Valencia CF, Palop is relishing his role as No1 in a Sevilla side 90 minutes away from a second successive UEFA Cup triumph. "I was in the shadows for years and could not enjoy such moments," he told uefa.com. "Now to reach the UEFA Cup final for two years running, for a player it doesn't get any bigger. I'm enjoying the moment and little by little trying to improve, and let's hope it doesn't stop here."
'Most important thing'
The 33-year-old has not looked back since joining the Andalusian outfit in summer 2005. Save for a two-year spell on loan at Villarreal CF in the late 90s, he had not played regular first-team football since graduating from Valencia's B team, and failed to make it into the Valencia squad for the 2004 UEFA Cup final. "Coming here to Sevilla and being able to enjoy these moments has been the most important thing that could have happened to me," he said.
The moments Palop refers to include the dramatic goal he headed deep into injury time against FC Shakhtar Donetsk to keep Sevilla alive in the competition's Round of 16. After a 2-2 first-leg draw, Sevilla were trailing 2-1 in Ukraine with just seconds remaining when Palop popped up in the opposition penalty box to nod an equaliser and set up a 3-2 extra-time success.
Sevilla, who until last May had endured 58 years without silverware, are now 90 minutes away from another honour to add to their 2006 double of UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup. Primera División rivals RCD Espanyol stand in the way but despite praising the Catalans' counterattacking play, Palop sounded a confident note: "We know them very well - we know how to hurt them. What we will have to do is play with the same intensity and the same rhythm that we always do."
Juande Ramos's men have managed to retain that rhythm despite the rigours of a season spent competing on three fronts - for the Spanish league and cup as well as the UEFA Cup. "We've been getting better and we've got practically to the end of the season and we're alive in three competitions and, in two of them, we're through to the final," said Palop. Whether that momentum and Sevilla's experience would tip the balance at Hampden Park, however, remains a moot point. "It's important to have played in a final before but it's not going to be the deciding factor. In a final both teams are motivated and in the end the team that will win is the one that has the most opportunities."