Kostenoglou: “We believed in achieving a miracle”
Interim AEK coach, Nikos Kostenoglou, asked his players to move forward with the positives after exiting the UEFA Europa League with a brave display against Trabzonspor in Turkey.
Last week, AEK suffered a hugely damaging 3-1 defeat to Trabzonspor at an empty Olympic Stadium, but the Athenians made a massive improvement in the second leg to come within a whisker of qualifying. In a stunning first half, Marko Livaja scored and Petros Mantalos converted a penalty to put AEK two up, before Nelson Oliveira came agonisingly close to grabbing the third at point blank range. AEK gave it their all, but despite their best efforts, Trabzonspor held on to qualify. Stand-in coach Kostenoglou was in charge following the firing of Miguel Cardoso at the weekend.
“We believed in achieving a miracle,” stated Kostenoglou after the match ended. “I would like to congratulate the players with the amazing first half. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score the third goal in the second half, but we will move forward with the positives. We have quality. However, there are certain internal issues which have to be sorted. It will be very difficult to play against Asteras Tripolis, especially after the efforts which our players gave on the pitch today. After that, we will have a break and there will be time to sort out the situation. It will be fixed.”
AEK captain Petros Mantalos, who scored the second goal from the penalty spot is feeling positive for the Super League: “This performance suggests that we can achieve something this season,” said Mantalos. “The league is only just started. Today, we really believed that it was possible to win the tie. Our target was to play really well, and the first half was fantastic. We could have scored more goals. I am proud of our players, and I am also proud of Mr. Kostenoglou who managed to get us ready for this match in just two days. We must beat Asteras Tripolis in our next match.”
Marios Oikonomou noted the improvement which AEK made: “The result of this game is positive, but the negative factor is that we didn’t progress to the group phase of the Europa League. Nevertheless, we made a big improvement in comparison to previous matches. We have gone through a difficult couple of months. Now, we have to press the reset button together. We scored twice, we had chances for the third, but it’s football. This is a difficult period for us, but I have seen people standing by us. We have a good team.”
Full-back Michalis Bakakis was proud of the effort which AEK gave in Trabzon: “This team has quality, soul and passion,” exclaimed Bakakis. “You saw how much we have changed. The coach told us to be more confident. The psychology of the team has changed for the better. After this game, we feel bitter because we know that we could have qualified for the Europa League group stage. We have to improve further for the championship and the Greek Cup.”