AEL Limassol FC coach Charalampos Christodoulou said his team can now "look any opponent in the eye" after claiming a 2-1 victory over Belgian title holders RSC Anderlecht.
"We have shown who we are tonight," he said. "Credit to the players for not giving up. They pressured the opponent, found space and got their reward in the end. In my opinion, one team deserved to win this game and that was AEL. Obviously it would have been ideal not to concede in the first leg but that's the reality of the situation."
Attempting to emulate Cypriot rivals APOEL FC's UEFA Champions League success last season, AEL started the play-off in Nicosia with real application, undaunted by the calibre of their opposition. They forged ahead through Dosa Júnior's 34th-minute header and though Dieudonné Mbokani pegged them back, substitute Rui Miguel earned victory midway through the second half with a shot that went in off goalkeeper Silvio Proto.
"We are 90 minutes way from our dream but we need to stay grounded," said captain Marios Nikolaou. "In Belgium, we start again at 0-0 so we need to be ready. We have already achieved so much but we have the potential to make history. Anderlecht have a budget of around €40-50million. Our currency, though, is our fans."
There was a sense among some at the GSP Stadium that AEL may live to regret the goal they conceded. It is testament to growing belief and expectation around a team whose previous five European campaigns lasted one round; Anderlecht represent their third hurdle this time around, and Christodoulou is as convinced as ever that his side can vault it next week in Brussels.
"We need to remain composed if we want to seal our place in the group stage. If we play well over there then we have what it takes to go through. But the tie is still wide open."
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