By Gorka Posada
Athletic Bilbao defender Borja Ekiza insists that he does not fear any player - not even Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 25-year-old centre-back will come face to face with the Portuguese striking sensation when los Leones host Real Madrid at San Mames on Sunday evening.
Ronaldo has netted 29 times in 29 Liga outings this season, while his double against Galatasaray in midweek means he has 11 goals in 10 Champions League appearances. So, is Ekiza scared of coming face to face with arguably the form player in world football at the moment?
"No," he exclaims in an exclusive interview with Goal.com. "In order to play professional football a player can never be afraid.
"Yes, you have to respect them all, but you cannot go onto the field in fear. You must, though, always respect your opponents."
There must also be a plan if one is to nullify one of the most prolific goalscorers the game has ever seen but Ekiza is keeping his cards close to his chest.
"Man, I can't tell you the plan here and now," he says, laughing. "Obviously, though, he's a very difficult player to mark, so we'll just have to see what we can do, because I think it will definitely be a team effort."
Athletic have beaten Madrid just once in their last 15 encounters but Ekiza insists that Marcelo Bielsa's men are looking forward to the challenge and that their is no mental block in place when it comes to facing los Blancos.
"They are not our nemesis," he argued. "Real Madrid is just Real Madrid. They always have class within their ranks and always come fired up, although it seems that this season that thy do not have much chance of winning the league.
"But, at the end of the day, this is Real Madrid. They always come onto all fields to win."
Indeed, Ekiza knows that Madrid boss Jose Mourinho would never tolerate anything less than 100 per cent from players.
The Pamplona native has an enormous amount of respect for the Portuguese tactician, admitting that he would like to play for him one day.
"He is a great coach," Ekiza enthused. "One need only look at the players he has coached. They all speak highly of him, so he must be doing something right!
"It would be an honour, because everyone speaks highly of him, so it would be great if he came to coach Athletic," he adds, smiling.
For now, though, Ekiza and his colleagues are just hoping to make their final clash with Madrid at San Mames a memorable encounter.
"It is a symbolic ground and has many years of history," he pointed out. "We are fortunate to be the last to play the derby against Real Madrid here, so we will try to give it the send-off it deserves."