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Football: Gabi confident new-look Atletico can shine in Shanghai

Gabi will captain Atletico Madrid for the 2015-16 season. Photo: Angel Gutierrez.

Gabi will captain Atletico Madrid for the 2015-16 season. Photo: Angel Gutierrez.

July 23, 2015: Atletico Madrid captain Gabi has said he’s “excited” to be returning to Shanghai as part of a new-look squad to face Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG in the Wanda International Football Tournament friendly on August 4.

 

Gabi and club legend Fernando Torres will both return to China nine years after helping Atletico win a three-team exhibition tournament in Shanghai in 2006.

 

Now in his second stint at his boyhood club, Gabi has captained Atletico since 2012 and led the team to victory in the Copa del Rey in 2013 and La Liga last year, when Los Rojiblancos (‘red and whites’) also reached the UEFA Champions League final.

 

Having finished third behind Barcelona and Real Madrid in last season’s La Liga, Gabi and his teammates are eager to embark on their pre-season tour of East Asia, which starts in Japan before Atletico make their long-awaited return to Shanghai.

 

“I had the chance to visit Shanghai some years ago and enjoy a wonderful city,” said Gabi, who will wear the captain’s armband under manager Diego Simeone for a fourth straight season.

 

“The people are very welcoming and friendly, so I’m excited to be able to travel there again with the rest of my teammates and play against Shanghai SIPG, one of the best Chinese teams.

 

“We know the Spanish league is widely followed, while there are increasingly more red-and-white fans who follow us in other countries, so we want to do our best for all of our supporters. The players are very eager to play against Shanghai SIPG.”

 

Atletico will travel with a new-look squad following an active period in the transfer market, as Diego Simeone’s men seek to again challenge in Spain and Europe.

 

The club has sold many of its biggest stars in recent years including Diego Costa, Radamel Falcao, Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, but under Simeone the club has offset the losses with astute buys of their own and promotion from within. Gabi believes this season will be no different.

 

“The club and the team have always had the power and strength to reinvent themselves season after season,” said Gabi, who came through Atletico’s renowned youth system, like Torres and playmaker Koke.

 

“It is true that important players are leaving, but the ones that are arriving are doing very well and we expect to compete this year as we have been doing.”

 

New arrivals include Colombia striker Jackson Martinez, Montenegro centre-back Stefan Savic, Belgium winger Yannick Corrasco and Argentine forward Luciano Vietto.

 

The newcomers have bolstered an already star-studded squad. Torres, Koke and right-back Juanfran were in Spain’s World Cup squad last year, while attacking midfielder Raul Garcia is among Atletico’s current and former Spain internationals.

 

Antoine Griezmann, who helped France reach the last eight at Brazil 2014, has become a fan favourite after the left footer finished as the club’s top scorer in La Liga last season with 22 goals, level with Neymar and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

 

Portugal midfielder Tiago Mendes is among Atletico’s other established internationals.

 

The Wanda Group, which owns 20 per cent of Atletico Madrid, is helping organise the club’s visit to China.

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