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Tavares looking to bring Maribor in from the cold

"I like winter," admitted NK Maribor's Brazilian-born striker Tavares, with the group stage's most fouled player eager to beat the freeze as his side travel to FC Rubin Kazan.

Tavares is highly regarded at Maribor
Tavares is highly regarded at Maribor ©Getty Images

For a man born in the subtropical climes of Porto Alegre in Brazil, NK Maribor striker Tavares could be forgiven a certain degree of trepidation ahead of Thursday's trip to FC Rubin Kazan. However, his admission that "I like winter" is a sure sign of where he now calls home.

Marcos Magno Morales Tavares – better known as simply Tavares – has now been plying his trade in Maribor for six seasons and recently signed a three-year contract extension. He has scored 98 goals in 224 appearances in the purple jersey and is already considered a club legend. Having recently obtained Slovenian citizenship, his next task is to try and keep alive Maribor's hopes of reaching the UEFA Europa League round of 32.

"Playing in European competition is a great privilege for me," said the 29-year-old. "We are now quite experienced in this competition, so we are aiming to take a step forward this season – we want to be still in the Europa League in spring."

Tavares's status as the most fouled player in the competition is a sure sign that opposition defences are well aware of the threat he poses. "It means that I am well known by my rivals in Europe," he said. "They know that the easiest way to stop me is with a foul. I'm used to physicality as it is a part of football – the Europe League is no different."

Tavares concedes that the competition has "far more quality than the Slovenian league" but has not yet given up hope that Ante Šimundža's side can make it out of Group D. They are currently bottom; a point adrift of SV Zulte Waregem, two behind Wigan Athletic FC and seven off Rubin. "We must not lose against Rubin in Kazan on Thursday," he said. "After that we must win against Wigan at home, and maybe then we can finish second in the group."

Freezing conditions are in store in Russia but Tavares is certainly not as daunted as he might have been before his move to Slovenia, at which point his career had taken in spells in Brazil, Malaysia and Cyprus. "I like winter; I play with my gloves on and that is why I don't get cold," he said. It is little wonder the Maribor fans have taken him to heart.