“I thought this one’s mine. And there’s no way he can stop me.” And he didn’t stop him. This is how Marcos Tavares described his winning goal in Iceland. It was the goal that took us into the play-off and guaranteed European football throughout the autumn. It was an amazing play, created by Luka Zahović. What followed was the captain’s sprint over half the field and a composed finish after a one-on-one with the keeper.
Quality. European experience. A purple heart. His best characteristic shone once more. And at the best possible moment. “This is it. The team worked hard in this match and we deserved the victory. We are good because of our team spirit. We work as a team. This brings out the best in each individual. We were better than the Icelanders and we deserve to be in the next round. We’ve clinched the spot in the Europa League. We are very happy with that, but it’s not over yet. We want the Champions League!”
It was a tough and nerve-wracking game. The usually cold northerners were temperamental and at times even overzealous. “The qualifications for the Champions League and the Europa League are a big motive and with it come the emotions and tension. What counts is that, in the end, everything worked out fine. We showed what we are prepared to do and just how much we are willing to fight for our club,” emphasised Marcos Tavares.
Marko Šuler has seen a lot in his career, but even for him, Wednesday’s match was something special. “I’ve been playing football for a long time. I’ve been a professional for 16 years. It was a peculiar match. They are a very specific team, whose style of play is based on playing long balls up front, which is not the way we play. It was a tough match in which you had to beat not just the opponent, but a host of other factors as well. In general, this year’s qualifiers have been one big fight and not just against the opponent, but also against a higher power, if you will. I’m not sure why. Our team went through a lot of changes before the season and we knew it would be tough. We were going for a surprise and we pulled it off. We had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way. Now, the weight is off our shoulders. We have guaranteed a place in the group stage. But there are still two steps to take. And why not take them?”
It’s not over yet. Who will we face in the play-off? “If you’re a true athlete, it’s irresponsible to think you have no more ambitions. So you try to aim high. I don’t like daydreaming before matches, but you always aim high. Our possible opponents are good teams, but we can compete with them and we’ll try to take the next step.”
We were up to the task, and they were not. Let’s hear it from the coach, who congratulated the team for their performance. “When you play for something as big as this, you feel immense responsibility on the pitch. But the boys did their job without once finding themselves in any real danger. They were tactically very responsible and they shut down the opponent. We made a few nice plays and we had the game under control, which made the home side nervous. Once more, we have shown that we excel in this sort of games and we are looking forward to new challenges,” said Darko Milanič.
We’ll have more reactions from the purple camp on Friday, after the draw for the play-off and before the next round of the league competition on Sunday, when we will visit Dravograd.