Montenegro's FK Mladost Podgorica were travelling blind when they took on Videoton FC in Hungary in their first UEFA Europa League fixture, but a 2-1 defeat was a result worth celebrating.
Striker Božo Marković scored the club's first European goal from the penalty spot after just two minutes in Szekesfehervar, and while efforts from Paulo Vinícius and Ádám Gyurcsó turned the result in the home side's favour, Marković counted himself pleased. "We didn't know what to expect in first leg because we didn't know whether we were ready to compete against a very strong team with big ambitions," he explained. "Now we know anything can happen in second leg."
Coach Nikola Rakojević, whose side dug deep in the closing stages on Thursday night to keep the scoreline down, added: "In games like these, experience and routine are very important, and as debutants on the European stage, we had none of those things to call on. But our game was very solid and though it was obvious that Videoton were the stronger team, we matched them for most of the game. I must congratulate my players for their brave performance."
The club from the capital suburbs is a hotbed of local talent; under their old name, OFK Titograd, Mladost helped some of the nation's most celebrated talents hone their skills – former AC Milan star Dejan Savićević, Real Madrid CF stalwart Predrag Mijatović and ACF Fiorentina playmaker Stevan Jovetić. However, they had not played in Europe until this year, when a sixth-place finish opened the door to continental competition, with several clubs above them unable to fulfil criteria.
A UEFA Europa League campaign has come as a massive surprise to many of the team, and a more than welcome bonus for their efforts. "These matches are an adventure and a gift for us," explained defender Aleksandar Šofranac. "We want to represent club and Montenegrin football in the best way possible and try to enjoy this opportunity for as long as possible. I'm sure all the club's famous old players would be proud to see us going through to the next round."
Making that next step will be no small task, but with Thursday's rematch looming, Rakojević has a right to dream of a potential second qualifying round meeting with Slovakia's FK Senica. "We hoped that we could get a result in the first leg which would give us something to play for in second match, and we did it," he said. "Anything can happen in 90 minutes, but Videoton are still strong favourites – after all, they have a goal advantage and they have been in similar situations many times before. We will try to surprise them."