Europe is over for us once again yet things could have so easily gone the other way!
We played a well fought match and the passion was very obviously there from our players. Throughout the entire first half they pressured and never gave up chasing the ball. Our passing was smooth, players looked calm and collected when under pressure in the attack, and things really were going well for us for the first 40 minutes or so. We managed to force a number of corners, we were coming close, yet our finishing in front of goal was poor and we were generally not as tight as we needed to be during our scoring chances.
Things started looking even better however as AEK were rewarded a penalty after Scocco was taken down in the box. Not too long before half time, it was a great opportunity to make our mark on the game. Blanco, unfortunately, failed to convert though and instead sent the ball over the net.
To make things worse Zenit score the game’s first goal after a weak counter attack, one which was a result of a poor pass from Liberopoulos. And this, only minutes before half time.
The second half was much the same though it was clear the goal took some spirit out of our guys. Jimenez tried some changes such as bringing on Burn’s and putting Diop on for Dellas though the subs had little impact. We couldn’t finish, we couldn’t produce in front of the net, and we paid for this as Zenit were soon up 2-0 and ended the game with a third to make it 3-0. The result meant only a loss for Anderlecht would have got us through, however they were more successful than us and ended up with a 2-0 win.
Another season and Europe is over for us. I know we haven’t had as much success as we would have liked these past few years, but this particular loss hurts almost as much as that unfortunate draw with Anderlecht four seasons ago. If only Blanco had scored the penalty things would have very likely ended differently. We were in control until then and had our own fate in our hands, even a draw would have seen us through.
Attendance was a little less than 30,000 from what I hear and despite the cold and general strike, a match as important as this should have drawn a better crowd. An extra boost from our fans may have given the players the last bit of inspiration they lacked on the pitch, but the atmosphere I heard sounded like a pretty good one. However, games like these emphasize so strongly the fact that we urgently need our own stadium, one where opponents would never feel safe or comfortable on nights like these.