Aris Thessaloniki FC coach Héctor Cúper refuses to be intimidated as his side go in search of Group B points at Club Atlético de Madrid on Wednesday, saying: "No one can take away our hope."
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A household name in Spain and Italy following spells with RCD Mallorca, Valencia CF, FC Internazionale Milano, Real Betis Balmopié and Parma FC, coach Héctor Cúper followed a spell in charge of Georgia's national team by moving to Greece to take over at Aris Thessaloniki FC last November.
The 55-year-old Argentinian will look to pilot them towards the UEFA Europa League round of 32 when they visit holders Club Atlético de Madrid on Wednesday − when they will be without injured trio Juanma, Ronaldo Guiaro and Deividas Česnauskis − with Cúper adamant that no game is unwinnable.
You beat Atlético 1-0 at home on Matchday 1. How was that?
Héctor Cúper: You always have to believe you can win. We prepared for that game with a lot of self-belief, but at the same time our opponents had an off-night. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses, and those of your opponents. One of their key strengths is Diego Forlán: he's worth more than our whole team combined. However, nobody can take away our hope. For 48 hours after the Atlético win, the players were still talking about it. We enjoyed it and so did the Aris fans because you never know when something like that will happen again. Whatever lies ahead, we will always have that.
Now you take on Atlético in Spain. How are your players' nerves holding up?
Cúper: Well, the first thing you have to do is not talk about nerves. You have to look at your strong points. Maybe there aren't many, but the strong points there are give you a chance. The thing you have to do before a game is say: 'Why not? Why can't we win?' It's just a repeat of the game here except this time we will have 4,000-5,000 fans and Atlético will have 40,000 or so. That is a plus for them but no one can take away our hope.
Are you happy with how everything has gone this season?
Cúper: Well, in the league we started well but have been very erratic. In the Europa League I think we've had a very good campaign. We are behind some teams, we know that, but we're competing against Atlético and Bayer Leverkusen and also Rosenborg, who are in Europe every year. Aris don't compete in Europe every year. It will be very difficult to qualify, we have to accept that, but the performances have been very good.
The Matchday 6 home game against Rosenborg could be a crucial one. What do you know about them?
Cúper: They are a calm team, they don't lose their cool. They always play the same way and don't buckle under pressure. When we scored the equaliser against them [on Matchday 2 when Aris lost 2-1], they had that belief that they would score the extra goal. And then there's the individual quality, because they have good players. And another advantage the Norwegian side have over us is that they are used to competing in Europe. However, it's cold over there, so the heat here will be incredible for them, so that gives us hope.
The Athens sides get much more attention in the Greek media. Does that mean less pressure on you in Salonika?
Cúper: We have pressure here too. Panathinaikos and Olympiacos have to win the title: nothing else. Here they cannot win the title, but they want to be in the play-offs, compete in Europe and win the Greek Cup. There is a lot of passion here. There are 20-something-thousand souls that want us to win.