For an Australian debutant goalkeeper to make the save of his career – a crucial one too – in a UEFA Champions League tie is the stuff of dreams.
Mathew Ryan's remarkable fingertip deflection – in the 33rd minute of Valencia's play-off first leg against Monaco – came from Bernardo Silva's fierce angled drive. So good was the save that the 23-year-old openly celebrated having thought the ball had already beaten him, his team's 1-0 lead at the time presumably wiped out.
"That really was a terrific moment," Ryan told UEFA.com. "In fact I surprised myself. I thought it was past me! Silva just shot – I reacted, and as I realised I'd got the slightest flick to it, I turned to see whether that was enough and the ball bounced back off the post. It dropped between two of their players, which was a nice bit of luck. Another day it could have easily fallen to one of them."
Preserving the hosts' 1-0 advantage was paramount, of course, but there was also satisfaction to be had in presenting evidence that this young, foreign replacement for the much-loved, injured captain Diego Alves was made of the right stuff.
"Obviously, being new to a club you hope to justify yourself immediately," said Ryan, who joined from Club Brugge over the summer. "I'm a big believer that the quickest way to gain respect from the club, fans and staff is to perform. So I had been a bit disappointed before tonight that I hadn't really faced the kind of game where it was imperative that I was important. I was in search of that crucial moment when my save would make a big difference." Search no further.
Valencia eventually ran out 3-1 winners, ensuring Monaco will welcome them to Monte Carlo next week with a tough task on their hands. Indeed, last season's fourth-placed Liga side left the pitch with their raucous fans thinking they had one foot in the group stage already.
"This was like going into the unknown for me – I didn't really know what to expect," said Ryan. "All week there was a big buzz around the club that this was a big objective, to qualify for the group stage, and that there was going to be a full house. But being greeted pre-match by about 2,000 noisy fans was a crazy welcome. It all adds up to a pretty special moment for a debutant and, for the whole team, backing like that is definitely like having an extra man."
Final thought from a satisfied, but cautious, fledgling keeper. "For an Aussie it would be a dream come true to make the group stage," he added. "Any player, me included, craves the biggest stage, the best opposition and the most creative individuals to play against.
In club terms, this competition is the World Cup – but we are not there yet, not at all. Two goals ahead can be a very dangerous scoreline. In Monaco we must get out there, score, and put this tie to bed."
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