The memory of losing the 2007 UEFA Cup final with RCD Espanyol is driving Liverpool FC's Albert Riera in the UEFA Europa League: "The goal is to win a trophy – we have no other option."
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Albert Riera needs no convincing of the merits of the UEFA Europa League. For the Liverpool FC winger, the tournament not only represents his team's sole remaining hope of avoiding another trophyless season but it also provides an opportunity to remove the lingering "bad taste" of the defeat he suffered with RCD Espanyol in the 2007 UEFA Cup final.
Riera came tantalisingly close to holding the cup that year, scoring Espanyol's first goal in a 2-2 draw with Sevilla FC in the all-Spanish final at Glasgow's Hampden Park that his old team eventually lost on penalties. He told UEFA.com: "I will always remember that final, in truth it was great but finals are there to win and if you lose it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. People talk about third time lucky but let's hope it will be second time for me."
The 27-year-old Spanish international is keen to make amends now with a Liverpool side whose entry into the UEFA Europa League followed their elimination from the UEFA Champions League. If there were dark skies over Anfield following that failure, Riera believes the Merseysiders could yet find a silver lining. He said: "We weren't very good in the Champions League. We made mistakes there, and we paid for them. You have to keep looking forward and we are in this competition now and we want to win it.
"The goal is to win a trophy – we have no other option – and also to finish fourth in the league. If we can't win the league, then finishing in the top four is the objective. This season we didn't start well, we can give a lot more and we are trying to do that."
A definite cause for optimism looking ahead to Thursday's second leg against round of 32 opponents FC Unirea Urziceni in Romania is Liverpool's defensive improvement in recent weeks. Rafael Benítez's side conceded costly last-minute goals in three of their UEFA Champions League ties but they have kept clean sheets in six of their last seven outings, including the 1-0 first-leg victory against Unirea last week and Sunday's goalless draw at Manchester City FC.
Riera said: "It's important to end a game with a clean sheet. If you do that you have a big chance of winning games. We know with the quality of the players we have, we'll always have opportunities. We had problems defending earlier in the season, especially in dead-ball situations, but it's something we've improved on. We were conscious of this and now we're reaping the rewards."
While Liverpool are excelling defensively, they struggled at the other end of the pitch against Unirea at Anfield until David Ngog made a belated breakthrough with nine minutes remaining. Yet Riera believes they may find it easier in Bucharest, given Unirea will have to commit men forward in search of a goal.
"They will have to come out and attack more, and can't defend as much or as deeply as they did so there will surely be more opportunities for us," he said. "We won't go there just to defend the result we got here, we will try to go there to win the game the same. We will surely get more chances, because they will be forced to play a bit more."