Relief mixed with elation in the RSC Anderlecht ranks after late goals from Dieudonné Mbokani and Olexandr Yakovenko carried them past AEL Limassol FC and into the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 2006/07.
United States midfielder Sacha Kljestan spoke of "a dream for a lot of us" – a theme echoed by 18-year-old forward Massimo Bruno, who stepped off the bench to create the opener. AEL captain Marios Nikolaou expressed pride in his team as they now prepare for a UEFA Europa League group stage debut.
Sacha Kljestan, Anderlecht midfielder
We're so happy and ready to see who we'll be playing. This is a dream for a lot of us – it's been a long time for Anderlecht since we've been in the group stage.
One of the reasons I came to Anderlecht was to play Champions League football so a small dream has been achieved.
A couple of individual plays [made the difference]. Mbokani had an amazing chance to score and he put it away. That's what we pay him for. [Olexandr] Yakovenko came on and also played a good game, not just scoring the second goal. We had some good chances all game but couldn't put one away and finally we had some guys step up.
We'll see after the draw [how well we can do] and then we'll see how things go in our first couple of games. Obviously, our goal is to continue playing European football in the new year. Certainly, if we make third place and go through to the Europa League, we'll be happy.
Massimo Bruno, Anderlecht forward
I was so happy after I made the assist [for Mbokani], I felt great. This is a dream come true. I thanked the coach for bringing me on afterwards. He was very happy, as we all were – it was a magical moment. For the goal, I didn't ask myself any questions. As soon as I got the ball, I wanted to cross because we had to score. My cross came off and thankfully it worked.
Seeing the chances we missed, we thought we were cursed today and that nothing would go in. But we managed to get a goal and the rest of the match went well. We wanted to score early to give ourselves breathing space and we had trouble finishing, but what's important is that we qualified and got two goals. Everything from now will be a bonus, but Juventus would be my dream [in the group stage draw].
Marios Nikolaou, AEL defender
We tried so hard. We know Anderlecht are a very good team, especially at home. They put us under pressure. We started very well until the 81st minute, but that's football and now we continue in the Europa League. We have our championship in front of us, I wish Anderlecht good luck and we'll keep looking forward.
Defence is our strongest weapon. Today we knew Anderlecht would press us and we had a lot of space for counterattacks. We had our chance, one for Rui Miguel in the first half. I think if we'd scored, the game would have been totally different. We won the championship last year for the first time in 44 years, we came so close to the group stage of the Champions League and we're already in the Europa League – I think we deserve to be proud.
Matias Degra, AEL goalkeeper
I think we had a very good first half, but
it was impossible for us to keep the same rhythm for the whole match and the superior quality of Anderlecht showed in the end. We knew that if we didn't score in the first half, it would be very hard to qualify. We have a very good team and we hope we do as well as we can in the Europa League and the Cypriot league.
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