José Antonio García 'Verza' has been one of the stalwarts for UD Almería during the 2013/14 Liga BBVA season. As the Andalusian side's penalty taker, his eight goals have ensured that the team led by Francisco Rodríguez heads into the final game of the season with a mathematical chance of survival in the Spanish topflight, something which the central midfielder himself sees as hugely important.
LFP.es: What is it like taking such an important penalty like the one against Granada?
Verza: Each penalty carries with it a lot of responsibility and the one I scored the other day helped us quite a bit. I just tried to concentrate on taking it and not to think too much about it. I knew it was important and I was just concerned about hitting it with conviction.
LFP.es: The team played some nice football at the beginning of the season but the results eluded you. What has changed to turn things around like you have done?
Verza: We learned from our mistakes. At the start we stood up to strong sides and played well in matches and practically had them won, but then in the final few minutes we'd end up losing or drawing. We learned from those setbacks and as the games went by we began to improve by focusing on the minor details. We have matured over the course of the season.
LFP.es: Almería is a team that never throws in the towel and you have recorded some impressive wins against Real Sociedad de Fútbol, Real Betis Balompié and RCD Espanyol. If there is one Liga BBVA side with faith it is Almería…
Verza: I fell extremely proud to be part of this squad and I think the fans should be proud too. We are the most modest team in the league and we have shown that we have spirit and heart. In extreme situations we have been able to take the initiative in matches and that has allowed us to move towards our objective.
LFP.es: Francisco has managed the team superbly. What does he say in the dressing room? Is it odd having such a young coach?
Verza: It's not odd for me. I see him as my coach. Of course he's young, but from the start he has let us know that he wants to work hard, to keep learning and that we were going to help him to keep doing so. He knows he is young, and that he still has a lot to learn and whenever he's fallen the team has picked him back up. I think this year has helped him mature a little.
LFP.es: How has it been for him managing a team that came into the tail end of the season in the relegation zone?
Verza: When we've been in tight situations, like when we went on a long run of matches without a win, he would meet with us and ask us to talk about what we could improve on, he was always ready to listen and I think that says a lot about him. He knew that we were all trying to get points and he left it up to us to pick them up.
LFP.es: Almería and RC Celta de Vigo are the only teams that have won their last three matches, if the season were a little longer they would be in Europe...
Verza: We're on form at the moment, we've won three games on the trot. We did it because if we hadn’t we’d be in a very difficult situation. Three matches ago we calculated that in order to achieve safety we would have to win everything and the team has really worked hard. We cannot talk about if there were more matches, we would be in a different position because this is a long race and points put everyone where they deserve to be.
LFP.es: For the match against Athletic Club, one of two results will keep you up. How are you approaching the match?
Verza: We're approaching it as we have done our last matches, knowing that it is a final for us. It's the last match of the season and if we manage to win or draw we'll be safe. That's the goal. We have worked very hard to get here with a chance and we're not going to go out and speculate. We're going to go out and try to win and not depend on anyone else.
LFP.es: What kind of atmosphere are you expecting in the Juegos del Mediterráneos?
Verza: A full stadium, you won't see a single empty seat and between [us and the fans] we can come through this. It would be amazing to achieve our goal because I think we're a smaller team and at the beginning of the season people were already saying we would go down. We're going to silence a lot of people and demonstrate that this is a huge achievement.