Brighton star Bruno has sights set on knocking close friend Juan Mata out of the FA Cup

The Brighton captain has remained close friends with the Manchester United star since their days playing together in Spain at Valencia.

Veteran defender Bruno, 37, is set to go toe-to-toe with his fellow Spaniard in the FA Cup quarter-final clash — and plans to dump United out of a second competition in five days after their Champions League heartbreak against Sevilla on Tuesday.

He said: “I’ve been looking forward to this game since the draw was made because it’s always special to play against a friend like Juan.

“He’s eight years younger than me and was the young star when I joined Valencia in 2009.

“The first thing that struck me about Juan was that, despite his age, he was very mature.

“We just had a really good connection and since then we’ve had a really good friendship.

“His talent was, of course, unbelievable. I have so many memories of games that we’ve played together but the one that really stands out for me was when he scored in a 4-4 draw at Werder Bremen in the Europa League and we went through on away goals.

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“It was an honour to be in the same team as him — just like it will also be an honour to play against him at Old Trafford.

“We’ve been speaking about it a lot and I know he can’t wait for the game too.”

Mata moved to Chelsea for £23.5million in 2011 and Bruno recalls his pal’s joy to be playing in the Premier League.

He said: “He was so pleased and excited to be moving to England. It was his big ambition to play over here and when a club like Chelsea comes in for you, it’s a real easy yes.

“I remember we were playing the same day that he made his Chelsea debut against Norwich — when he had come off the bench and scored.

“After the game on the coach we all rushed to check the result and were so proud of him and since that very first day playing in English football he has been brilliant.

“Look at what he has achieved. He was Chelsea’s player of the season twice, won the Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup with them.

“Then he has gone to Manchester United and won the Europa League and FA Cup there too. He just continues to go from strength to strength.”

Bruno says his biggest asset is his character, having twice bounced back from losing his first-team spot under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and then United.

The Seagulls ace said: “It was tough for him with Jose but he never gave up and has won the total respect of Mourinho and all his team-mates.“He just knuckled down and got on with it. And now he is playing week after week.

“It says a lot about Juan’s personality. A player like him is so calm, he has won big trophies but he never walks around like Charlie Big-Time.

“He’s very humble and just worked so hard, waiting for his moment. And then when his moment arrived, he has taken it with both hands.”

Bruno joined up for Mata’s charity Common Goal which sees stars donate one per cent of their salary for grassroots community football.

He said: “He’s a generous person, he wants to give something back to society through football.

“And to give something back is such a pleasure.”

Bruno is a fans’ hero down on the South Coast, which is small wonder when you see how he interacts with supporters.

After the Seagulls got past League Two Coventry in the last round, he kept his word to a young fan by giving her his shirt at the final whistle.

He said: “It’s really important. I try my best to be close to them, especially those who are going through tough times.

“This is a club that has come a long way in a short time and the fans have been great for us. It’s important we keep our community spirit.”

Bruno faced Mata in United’s 1-0 Premier League win over Brighton in November but had a frustrating time recently after picking up a knock and losing his place to in-form Italian defender Ezequiel Schelotto.

But the Spaniard came off the bench during the 2-1 win against Arsenal and is expected to start at Old Trafford, with boss Chris Hughton saying he is very much part of his plans.

Bruno said: “Right now, my situation isn’t the most important priority.

“The biggest thing is to make sure Brighton stay in the Premier League so we can build on this first season.

“I am playing in the cup games and we’ve been doing great in the league so the manager can’t change the team while we’re winning. I understand that.”

Brighton lost to Manchester United in the 1983 FA Cup final after a replay but should have won the first game at Wembley.

It is a day that still rankles with many Brighton fans.

Bruno said: “You just don’t get the importance of the FA Cup back home because we think it’s like the Copa del Rey which just isn’t that big in Spain.

“It wasn’t until I got here and played in FA Cup games that I realised what a great competition it is.

“This country really should value the FA Cup because there just isn’t a cup like it.”

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