Mateo Kovacic says the Blues players are prepared and proud to represent Chelsea in a big game full of big players when we take on Porto in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.
We meet the Portuguese champions in Seville tomorrow evening and they have already shown this season how strong an opponent they can be, having not lost a league game since October and eliminated Juventus in extra time in the last round of the Champions League.
That means Kovacic and his Blues team-mates are well aware of the task that faces them over two legs in Spain if we are to make the last four in the competition, with the Croatian international highlighting Porto’s team spirit and determination as two of the assets which make them a formidable opponent.
‘It was a difficult draw,’ he said. ‘Porto is a good team which we saw already against Juventus. They knocked out a big opponent, they showed togetherness and a great spirit. They fight together, they stick together and so it will be a tough game for us, like every game in the Champions League, but we are prepared for it.
‘When I played before at Real Madrid I learned that in this stage there are no bad opponents. This is a tough draw, Porto is an amazing team and they knocked out Juventus, a big opponent, and they showed a great character and a great team spirit. We need to show that as well and try our best to go through but it won’t be easy.
‘They can play against any team, but we are a good team as well and we prepared ourselves very well for the game and we will show that. Tomorrow is a big day for us and I’m sure that the whole team is focused on that.’
During his three years at Real Madrid, during which he won the Champions League three times, the Blues midfielder was also a team-mate of current Porto captain Pepe. The defender has a reputation as a fierce competitor, but Kovacic has no concerns about how our strikers will handle the challenge of going up against the Portuguese veteran.
First of all, I know Pepe as an amazing guy, a lovely person and an amazing team-mate,’ said Kovacic. ‘I appreciate when I had the time with him at Real Madrid he was amazing with me, so I love him as a guy and as a player he is amazing.
‘We know what Pepe can bring to his team, a lot of experience and he is a fighter, so he brings a good spirit to the team. But I don’t need to worry because our strikers are used to playing against tough opponents. In the Premier League every centre-back is quite hard and difficult, so it will be another game full of big players and we will be prepared for that.’
However, despite lifting the Champions League trophy three times in the past, Kovacic never started a final in the competition during his time in Madrid. While he admits that is something he would love to set right with a Chelsea side he believes has the potential to succeed in Europe, it is important not to look too far ahead and just focus on the next game.
‘It would be nice to play a final with Chelsea, it would be amazing, but we are in the quarters now, we should take it step by step. We have tomorrow a big opponent, which is Porto.
‘I think this Chelsea team can go very far and we are more and more confident in ourselves in every game. We have a great mixture between young talents and experienced players. So we are ready for every opponent and every challenge which will come. Tomorrow is a big game and all players like to play big games, so we will be prepared and proud to play a big game for Chelsea.’