While three missed RSC Anderlecht penalties eventually allowed FK Partizan to book their place in the UEFA Champions League group stage, defender Marko Jovanović pointed to Cléo's role in a remarkable success.
With the scores level at 2-2 from the first leg, the Brazilian forward struck early in each half to silence the Brussels crowd and put Partizan in command of the tie, paving the way for a memorable triumph despite goals from Romelu Lukaku and Guillaume Gillet that took the tie into extra time and ultimately penalties. "Cléo's an amazing player; he scores, he fights for the team and I'm sure he'll play for a bigger club," said Jovanović.
The Brazilian striker himself was more modest. "It's not just about me, it's about the whole team," said the 25-year-old centre forward, who has registered in all six of his team's UEFA Champions League qualifying games this season, scoring eight goals in the competition. "Of course this is good for my confidence but the result is even more important for the club."
Partizan certainly lived on their nerves, and might have caved in under intense pressure in the latter part of the game. "It was a very difficult match for us but we played well and had a bit of luck," Jovanović admitted. "We were very tired, because Anderlecht play in a better league than us and we don't have games like this in our competition."
Having qualified for the group stage for the first time since 2003/04, Partizan will once again share the spotlight with the top sides in Europe and Jovanović is clear about who he wants to face next. "Barcelona," he said with a smile. "They're the best team in the world." Cléo was more circumspect, adding: "There are many big, big clubs but I just want to enjoy this moment."
Meanwhile, Moroccan playmaker Mbark Boussoufa refused to pass the blame for Anderlecht's shoot-out failure having joined team-mates Matías Suárez and Lucas Biglia in blasting their attempts over the bar in the final dénouement. "I accept my responsibility," he told UEFA.com. "I scored a penalty at the weekend and was confident tonight."
The shoot-out misses were, for Boussoufa, almost less galling than the way his side went two goals behind. "We began hesitantly, and the two goals we conceded were both preventable, but in the second half we really outplayed them," he said. "Unfortunately we couldn't sneak a winner." That failure leaves the Belgian side in the UEFA Europa League, with the victorious Partizan awaiting Thursday's group-stage draw.
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