After FC Spartak Moskva made it a rousing end to their UEFA Champions League campaign with Wednesday's 2-1 success at MŠK Žilina, influential midfielder Alex suggested he and his team-mates would learn from their experience in the competition.
There was little at stake in Slovakia with everything already settled in Group F, but third-placed Spartak were nonetheless made to dig deep after falling behind to a surprise Žilina goal just after half-time. The visitors upped the tempo in response and coach Valeri Karpin sent skipper Alex into the attack with immediate dividends. The Brazilian playmaker capped a busy night by hitting the equaliser and setting Ibson up for the winner.
"Our team is very young," said Alex, who was making just his third Spartak appearance since mid-October due to a thigh injury. "For most of our players, it was their first time playing in the Champions League against really strong teams.
During the six games we have created a base to build on for next year."
The Russian club can also look forward to the UEFA Europa League round of 32 in February, although there was an understandable sense of regret among the players given they had begun with a 1-0 victory at Olympique de Marseille. A pair of losses to section winners Chelsea FC and a 3-0 revenge win for Marseille in Moscow ultimately derailed their bid.
"We started very well, but obviously the results against Chelsea and then the last Marseille game killed us a bit," said winger Aiden McGeady. "We still came in with nine points, though, in a fairly tough group. Our goal, of course, was to qualify, but the Europa League should be OK. We should be seeded now, so we're hoping not to get one of the tougher teams in the draw and then we'll take it from there and hopefully get a good run."
For Žilina, striker Tomáš Oravec recognised that his side had made costly errors against Spartak, while remaining pleased with the overall performance. "We played a reasonably good game but when we were one goal up, we should have controlled the match and stayed solid at the back," he said. "Instead we opened up and they scored twice from counterattacks."
The Slovak champions and current First League leaders finished the group stage without a point, having suffered a 7-0 home defeat by OM and a 3-0 reverse in Moscow along the way. Despite those results, forward Tomáš Majtán – who struck after 48 minutes against Spartak – felt the club deserved to be positive about the often hard lessons learned.
Apart from the home game against Marseille and the away game in Moscow, we actually played quite well," he said. "We just always had something missing when it really mattered, but we gained a lot of experience. So if we win our league again this year, we hope we will be able to put that experience into practice."
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