Valencia CF midfielder Juan Mata was left to reflect on "a painful exit" after his side bade farewell to the UEFA Champions League following a 3-1 second-leg defeat at FC Schalke 04.
Juan Mata could not conceal his disappointment after Valencia CF crashed out of the UEFA Champions League to FC Schalke 04 on Wednesday. After what he termed a "sad exit", the Spanish international targeted a berth in next season's competition as his remaining ambition for the campaign.
Valencia were on course to reach the last eight for the first time since 2006/07 when Ricardo Costa gave them the lead with a 17th-minute header, putting them 2-1 up on aggregate. They then subjected their hosts to some stylish, controlled football, but never really threatened to score a second goal before Jefferson Farfán kick-started a 3-1 comeback win by equalising five minutes before the interval.
For Mata, the 23 minutes that elapsed between the two first-half goals were the key to the outcome. "We could have scored a second goal, but instead they ended up equalising," he said. "In these types of knockout games, if you aren't clinical you can forget about advancing. It's a sad exit, a painful exit for us. They scored their goals at crucial moments in the game.
We just have to keep working hard now and fight for third place in the Liga; that's all that's left for us now this season. We want to remain in third spot and to qualify for the Champions League directly; that's the club's objective."
Even after going 2-1 down when Mario Gavranović struck seven minutes after the break, Unai Emery's charges knew an equaliser would be enough to see them through on the away-goals rule. Manuel Neuer made a superlative save from Aritz Aduriz and Valencia pushed men forward without reward right up until the final whistle.
Wide midfielder Pablo Hernández said: "They went 2-1 ahead and we had several chances to equalise but we couldn't take them and so this is a bitter defeat. The third goal came right at the end of the game and it doesn't matter whether it was 2-1 or 3-1 as we were going out in any case."
Hernández felt Farfán's free-kick leveller was the moment when Valencia let the tie slip from their grasp. "It looked really good for us when we were 1-0 ahead," he explained. "We weren't able to keep the lead and so Schalke deserved to go through. We were controlling the game at 1-0 up and there wasn't much danger coming from them. It was a foul from us that got them back into the match.
It's a crying shame that we've exited the competition and incredibly disappointing."