Cardoso: “The heat made it difficult for the players”
Following the 2:0 victory against Universitatea Craiova in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round, AEK boss Miguel Cardoso pointed out the difficulty of playing in the hot weather conditions.
With the temperature exceeding +35 °С in Craiova, it was never going to be easy for either team at the Ion Oblemenco Stadium, but AEK eventually prevailed thanks to goals from Petros Mantalos and Marko Livaja. After a goalless first half, Mantalos opened the scoring with a pinpoint header from Livaja’s cross, before the latter secured the victory in the closing stages with a powerful effort on the counterattack. The second leg will take place inside an empty Olympic Stadium next Thursday in Athens.
AEK manager Cardoso shared his emotions from the 2:0 victory with the media: “The most important thing today is the result,” stated the 47-year-old Portuguese coach. “However, we must have a serious approach for the second leg if we want to qualify, and we have to remember that we’re playing against a team which has now played nine official games this season. You have to keep in mind that it was very difficult to play in this heat. If it was tough for me on the sidelines, imagine how hard it was for the players!”
“Of course, I would have liked the performance to be better,” continued Cardoso. “Will we copy Craiova’s idea of having children inside the stadium in Athens? I don’t know, but it was nice to see the children at the arena and hopefully we set an example for them. The atmosphere inside the stadium dictates how the players perform on the pitch.”
Craiova head coach Corneliu Papura isn’t giving up hope of qualifying for the playoff phase: “We often had the ball in good positions, but we lacked inspiration. It’s true that we didn’t deserve to win this evening. At the start of the game, we managed to create some promising opportunities, but it didn’t happen. It’s important to stay focused, because nothing is impossible in football. Things could have been different with our fans today. I am frustrated.”
Daniele Verde, who made his official debut for AEK, noted the poor quality of the pitch in Craiova: “It was hot today, but the main problem for me was the pitch,” noted the Italian winger. “We had to try a lot harder to execute our ideas. Yes, we are a new team, but the result in this game proves that we can work together productively.”