"We go out with our heads held high," Axel Witsel told UEFA.com as he, Hulk and Nicolas Lombaerts reflected on FC Zenit's round-of-16 exit despite a 2-1 win at Borussia Dortmund.
Article top media content
Axel Witsel told UEFA.com that FC Zenit could leave this season's UEFA Champions League with their "heads held high" following a second-leg win against Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16.
Zenit's 2-1 success was ultimately insufficient as their hosts prevailed 5-4 on aggregate, but after a determined personal performance, Witsel highlighted the positives of victory in one of Europe's most daunting arenas.
Axel Witsel, Zenit midfielder
We came here to try and win and we did that, but unfortunately we're out of the Champions League. We go out with our heads held high, though. We played well and we won – it's just a pity we couldn't do the same in the first leg.
Of course we thought it was still possible [after José Rondón made it 2-1 to Zenit in the 73rd minute]. We did our best and continued to play well, but unfortunately we couldn't get the goals we needed to progress. I'd say this match [was my favourite in the UEFA Champions League this season]. It's the best we've played and to win here as well was great.
Hulk, Zenit forward
Obviously we're very disappointed to go out of the Champions League, but it was too big a mountain to climb tonight. After such a poor first-leg showing it was always going to be tough to win against one of the best teams in Europe. We managed to do so tonight, but unfortunately we couldn't make it into the quarter-finals.
After I scored I thought something might be possible, but we didn't follow it up with a second and instead conceded the equaliser. That was obviously a blow. Now we're out and we have to accept that that's because of our poor first-leg performance.
Nicolas Lombaerts, Zenit defender
It's a big disappointment [to go out], but we blew it in the first game. Tonight we did a lot better and we were well-organised. We can leave this tournament with our heads up and that's the most important thing. Now we can focus on winning the league.
After the first goal we definitely believed. We knew that they have a good team and that they would create chances as well, and they scored the equaliser. If we could have gone into the dressing room at half-time 1-0 up it would have been nice. We got back in front and started to believe again and you never know what might have happened if we'd have got a third. Maybe they'd have panicked and I would have liked to have seen what would have happened then, but that's football.
I don't think we played incredibly well in the Champions League this year. We came through the group stage with six points. We were fortunate to be in the last 16. Special moments? Well, we only won twice: here in Dortmund and [1-0] against Porto. I'd say the Porto one was the best victory.