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It was natural that Pablo Hernández's two extra-time goals made him the hero of Valencia CF's thrilling 3-0 UEFA Europa League round of 32 victory against Club Brugge KV. But every player, official and fan left the Mestalla stadium knowing that Brugge goalkeeper Stijn Stijnen had given one of the season's great performances.
At the other end, César Sánchez could only marvel at his opposite number's catalogue of saves, blocks and interventions while maintaining his own concentration at a high level. Three minutes before the end of normal time his test arrived, and the former Real Madrid CF keeper, who won the UEFA Champions League in 2001/02, parried Wesley Sonck's fierce shot which would have put Brugge through against the odds.
"Stijnen was playing incredibly which made it complicated for me," Sánchez told UEFA.com. "Your head is buzzing because you see your team-mates performing well and the game just not being finished off. You must concentrate totally and stay ready, because at any minute you might have to intervene. That's how it happened. Stijnen made us suffer over both matches by playing exceptionally – if not for him, we would have finished the tie off quickly."
That praise was returned by Stijnen, who applauded both that one moment of complete focus with which Sánchez rescued Valencia and Unai Emery's winning team. "We had the one good chance three minutes from full time, and if it had gone in then I don't think I'd have slept for a week," said the Belgian international. "Hats off to César, though, because he came up with a top save. But even in defeat we are proud – we never expected to take Valencia to extra time, especially not when you lose the first goal tonight after a matter of seconds. I have 30 or so caps for Belgium and I've played ten years with Brugge, including in the Champions League, and we have never played against a team like Valencia. They were unbelievable."
Which only underlines the importance of Hernández finally clinching their progress to a round of 16 meeting with Werder Bremen on 11 and 18 March. The Spain midfielder's two fine finishes added to Juan Mata's first-minute goal which had cancelled out Club Brugge's 1-0 first-leg lead. "This was a game where it was written that we wouldn't win until extra time, and it was just my turn to get the goals," Hernández said. "Their keeper was terrific and made us suffer for the victory. If the ball refuses to go in, you just have to stay calm and wait for the moment when it will". Something the 24-year-old patently does very well.
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