Villarreal’s captain and commander-in-chief on the pitch, Raúl Albiol, brings a wealth of experience to the team from his time at Valencia, Real Madrid and Napoli, but the 36-year-old still feels the thrill as his side approximate. to the UEFA Champions League final.
Albiol won the UEFA Europa League with Unai Emery’s side last season and will be hoping Villarreal can punch above their weight again in the semi-finals, having knocked out Juventus and Bayern in the previous round of 16.
Liverpool won’t be an easy challenge, but having won two EUROs and a FIFA World Cup with Spain, Albiol are also a formidable opponent. Ahead of the semi-final first leg at Anfield on 27 April, he spoke to UEFA.com about Villarreal’s journey so far and his determination to “write another chapter in history”.
Is Raúl Albiol part of your fantasy team?
On the elimination of Bayern
We are very happy with all the work done by the whole team in both games [against Bayern in the quarter-finals] and for suffering as a team. What can make you happiest is seeing your teammates working and suffering side by side, and experiencing a night like this in Munich is very special.
In the locker room, [Étienne] Capua was dancing; everyone was celebrating. Seeing your teammates happy and seeing that they believed they could knock out Bayern says a lot about the team and how competitive they are. Now we are facing a great rival, but we are trying to move forward and we are dreaming of this final.
Raúl Albiol sheet
Born: September 4, 1985, Vilamarxant, Spain
Appearances/goals in UEFA club competitions: 117/4
UEFA Champions League appearances/goals: 77/2
International appearances/goals: 58/0
Opposite Liverpool then
The further you go, the higher the level, like in video games. As you complete new chapters, the level [of difficulty] becomes more difficult. In the end, if you want to finish first, you have to finish the video game, right? Liverpool are tough, very tough. They have regained the level they had when they won the two Champions [League] and the prime minister [League]. I think they are back in the picture once again. It’s true that they lowered the level a bit last season, but they’re back this year.
It will be very hard but that’s how a Champions League semi-final is. Am I scared? No not at all. In football you can feel nervous, but it’s not because you’re scared. It’s driven by adrenaline, it’s the desire to get on the pitch and play. It’s great to play a Champions League semi-final game at Anfield. I think having this experience in this stadium will be great.
On moving to the UEFA Champions League after winning the UEFA Europa League
The Europa League has helped us a lot to have these experiences in the Champions League. They are not at the same level, but last year we started to be a competitive team in Europe and to know how to play in difficult round of 16. And I think now [by eliminating] Juve and Bayern, we have shown that the team has personality, knows how to suffer; we have gone through difficult times.
Winning the club’s first European title was historic, but if we suffer a defeat against Liverpool, it could also be historic. So we have to do our best in these two matches to try to do that; we must give everything to write another chapter of history. If Villarreal entered the Champions League final, it would be something historic for a club and a village like Villarreal.
Samu Chukwueze on Raúl Albiol
“[Raúl Albiol is] an amazing guy. There’s a word he uses: ‘frate’. I don’t understand what ‘frate’ means, but when he says: ‘Frate, ¿cómo estás?’ [How’s it going, brother?]I say ‘Ah, well, well.’ [Ah, good, good.] He is so funny. He is so good. I call him “father”. He is like a father to me. I listen to it all the time.”
On what Villarreal’s success means for football
It shows that with effort, dedication and team spirit, great things can be achieved, and that money and great players are not the only ways to win titles. In the end, we are a great group of players with a good level, who want to grow and improve, who work hard and spend many hours preparing for each match with the coaching staff. We are now at that point where we can believe.
It would be like a dream to play in the Champions League final with Villarreal, a very humble and hardworking side who have struggled to stay among the top flight. [It has involved] much effort from the Roig family. They went through very happy and very hard times. A club from a town of 50,000 making it to the Champions League final would become a milestone in football history. So it would be something that not only Villarreal fans would remember, but also many football fans.
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