Playing for free in his last season with Athletic Club, striker Joseba Etxeberria is determined to enjoy his "final moments" in football as the Basque outfit vie with Werder Bremen for top spot in Group L.
Article top media content
Athletic Club attacker Joseba Etxeberria expects an "intense encounter" as Los Leones bid to wrest top spot in UEFA Europa League Group L away from Werder Bremen on Wednesday.
With both sides already certain of a place in Friday's round of 32 draw, Joaquín Caparrós's side must beat their guests by 2-0 or three clear goals at San Mamés to advance as section winners. The game also represents an opportunity for the 32-year-old Etxeberria and his team to show they can succeed without injured striker Fernando Llorente; the highest scorer in the group stage with six goals.
"Playing for the group leadership in the last game at home is the ideal situation to be in and one in which we marked out as a goal at the beginning of our season," Etxeberria said. "If we can finish top of our group so much the better, as that way we can avoid the strongest teams in the tournament and play the second leg at home. Werder are a UEFA Champions League-class team but I think we can beat them."
A tearful Etxeberria thought he had waved goodbye to his last chance at glory when Los Rojiblancos were defeated by FC Barcelona in last term's Copa del Rey final. However, having agreed to play one last season at the club for free before retiring from professional football, the former Spanish international now has his sights set on European success.
"These are my final moments in the game and I want to enjoy every one of them," the former Real Sociedad de Fútbol player said. "The UEFA Europa League is a very demanding competition and while I think that playing our last game at home will be beneficial for us, we want more. We're all expecting a very strong rival in the next round but it will be a knockout tie and anyone can win in those situations."
Part of the 1998/99 Athletic side that competed in the UEFA Champions League, having finished the previous season as Liga runners-up, Etxeberria admits he is excited by the new generation coming through at the club, notably Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and Javi Martínez. "The competition for places at the club is huge and that's to everybody's benefit," he said. "These players are our future and we must take care of them and give them time to mature."