Club Atlético de Madrid winger Fran Mérida admitted his side could ill afford any further setbacks in their quest to retain their UEFA Europa League title after Los Rojiblancos were held to a 1-1 draw by Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Having lost their opening Group B encounter away to Aris Thessaloniki FC, Atlético again found themselves on the backfoot when Eren Derdiyok put Leverkusen ahead shortly before half-time in Thursday's encounter at the Vicente Calderón. However, shortly after his introduction at the break Mérida won a penalty when fouled by defender Sami Hyypiä and captain Simão stepped up to slot home the subsequent spot-kick.
The goal sparked a mini-revival among the 2010 UEFA Europa League winners yet despite their second-half efforts they were forced to settle for a draw. "We feel we should have won tonight and we gave everything in order to do so," Mérida told UEFA.com. "I thought we were dominating the match until they scored their goal on the counterattack and that did a lot of damage to us, but we reacted to that and fought to the end for the victory."
The result leaves Quique Sánchez Flores's side at the bottom of the standings and trailing table-toppers Leverkusen by three points, leading Mérida to concede his side now faces a difficult task to catch Jupp Heynckes's men. "They have a great team who are doing really well in this Europa League especially after their fine opening victory," he explained. "We know we've now played two games in this tournament where perhaps we weren't at our best.
We can't afford any more slip-ups if we want to qualify."
Leverkusen's experienced defender Sami Hyypiä, meanwhile, felt it was the Bundesliga team that deserved to leave Madrid with maximum points after their impressive first-half display. "
We have to be happy to come here and get a point but I think today we could have had more," the 36-year-old told UEFA.com. "We played very well but as the game wore on we started to tire a little and when that happens a team like Atlético can create problems for you. We just weren't good enough with the ball after the break."
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