Udinese Calcio's players were disconsolate after narrowly missing out on a place in the last 16 in their first campaign in the UEFA Champions League.
Two FC Barcelona goals in the last five minutes at the Stadio Friuli stunned the Italian club, who only needed a draw to qualify, and brought the Mexican waves that had been coursing around in premature celebration to a sudden standstill. Valerio Bertotto's reaction at the final whistle summed up the feelings of the team, and indeed the whole town. With hope dashed at the death, the Udinese captain left the field in tears.
"I started crying because I am not a robot, I'm a human being," said Bertotto, who has been with the club through thick and thin since 1993. "I love my profession, I love playing football and I don't just do it to pick up a pay cheque. This match meant a lot to me and so my tears came spontaneously because I was deeply disappointed."
As coach Serse Cosmi had hinted, Udinese opted to contain Barcelona by sitting back, defending deep and occasionally attempting to hit the Catalan side on the break – a risky gameplan which ceded possession to the visitors. Towards the end, tired limbs and tired minds made for a scrappy contest and handed the initiative to the visitors once too often, and Santiago Ezquerro and Andrés Iniesta punished the home team with some slick finishing.
"We didn't want it to be remembered as the greatest footballing display ever produced," added Bertotto. "
We wanted to write our names into the history books of this club by taking it where it had never been before. In the last five minutes we needed to be hoofing the ball into the crowd, not giving it back to the opposition."
Vincent Candela was also downbeat at his side's failure to hold on to the 0-0 draw. Although he only joined in the summer, the former French international full-back is all too aware of the importance of the result for Udinese and the supporters. He was hard pressed to explain where it all went wrong.
"It's a huge disappointment, it's hard to put into words," he said. "It's a blow, not only for me and my team-mates, but for the club, the whole town and Italian football. We lacked intelligence at a key moment. Obviously with five minutes to go, you are bound to be tense and a little scared but we were so close to pulling it off. The way it ended was just too dramatic.
"The Mexican waves in the crowd showed that the fans believed in us, as we believed in ourselves. I don't know what happened at the end. It's easy to criticise us and we deserve criticism because you can't lose a game like that. It's just a shame for the history of Udinese Calcio."
Too little, too late
As candid as ever, Candela also explained why Udinese had suffered. Caught between playing Barça at their own game or trying a more defensive approach, the Italian team opted for the pragmatic – but the ends did not justify the means. "The main reason we didn't really play was simply because a draw was enough," he said. "The little we did play was enough for all but the final five minutes."
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