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Rubin bar the way for Atlético and Juanfran

"We want to do great things in this competition," said defender Juanfran as Club Atlético de Madrid resume their UEFA Europa League title defence against FC Rubin Kazan.

Juanfran (right) knows Rubin's Spanish trio well
Juanfran (right) knows Rubin's Spanish trio well ©Getty Images

Juanfran is determined that Club Atlético de Madrid get off on the right foot as the holders resume their quest for a third UEFA Europa League title against FC Rubin Kazan on Thursday.

The Spain defender knows his side are favourites – having won all 19 home games in all competitions this season – for the round of 32 tie, but wants Atlético to recover fast from their 2-1 weekend Liga loss at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid.

"Winning is the most important thing," said the 28-year-old on the eve of the first leg. "We need to start these ties well. We need to avoid conceding goals. We will win if we are 100%. When you lose a match you want to play the next one as soon as possible. We want to do great things in this competition."

If Atlético are eager to impress, Rubin's Spanish contingent – defenders César Navas and Iván Marcano plus midfielder Pablo Orbaiz – have their own reasons to want to perform well. Juanfran expects nothing less. "I have played against all of Rubin's Spanish players," he said. "They are great players who went there to work – it's good to see Spanish players being successful abroad."

The hosts' Argentinian coach Diego Simeone, meanwhile, is more concerned about one of his own countrymen, left-sided wing back Cristian Ansaldi. "They play well, control the ball well and have forwards who will make this tie difficult," said Simeone. "Ansaldi is a great player, very interesting, and his coach uses him in different positions."

A UEFA Cup winner with FC Internazionale Milano in 1998, Simeone is not taking progress for granted against the Russian Premier League's seventh-placed club. "There is no switching off," he said. "We respect Rubin Kazan and know what they are capable of. We will play with the intensity the UEFA Europa League demands."

Not only does this match mark a return to the city where César Navas began his career with Real Madrid CF B, it also comes on the Rubin player's 33rd birthday. "I have played on my birthday in the past," said the centre-back, who had spells with Málaga CF and Real Racing Club before moving to Russia in 2009. "A good result will be a good present."

As faultless as the Rojiblancos have been at the Estadio Vicente Calderón this term, their home form holds no fears for Rubin coach Kurban Berdyev. "I don't think Atlético are favourites," he said. "We have played against strong teams [this season] and I'm not afraid of tomorrow's game. My assistants have attended Atlético's last three fixtures and have also watched videos. We are ready."

Berdyev, who will assess the fitness of midfielder Aleksandr Ryazantsev, confirmed that January signing Yann M'Vila is in the squad, but has yet to decide whether the former Stade Rennais FC player will start.

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