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Defensive masterclass lifts Standard

R. Standard de Liège duo Mohamed Sarr and Benjamin Nicaise admitted they were battered and bruised but still smiling after a fierce rearguard action at FC Salzburg sealed their last-16 place.

Defensive masterclass lifts Standard
Defensive masterclass lifts Standard ©UEFA.com

R. Standard de Liège defender Mohamed Sarr hailed his side's defensive focus as the Belgian titleholders carved out a 0-0 draw at FC Salzburg to seal their place in the UEFA Europa League round of 16.

With the hosts requiring at least one goal to turn the tables on last week's 3-2 defeat in Liege, Standard were forced to endure several bouts of pressure but stood firm to maintain their aggregate advantage. "We did well to keep the clean sheet," said Sarr, who made a crucial block to deny a fearsome Dušan Švento strike in the first half. "It was a good performance from the whole team. We all worked hard and as a result we're through to the next round."

Midfield bulwark Benjamin Nicaise also paid tribute to his team's combined effort throughout: "Obviously they were keen to get at us but I thought we kept the ball well. We were organised and managed to keep their more dangerous players in check. We did well in defence and most importantly we kept our marking tight," said the 29-year-old, who admitted he was feeling the effects of a heated midfield battle in the second half. "It was a very physical game and I picked up a knock or two – but that's my job."

Despite enjoying the lions' share of the possession Salzburg rarely threatened in the second half, almost going behind when Dieudonné Mbokani's header came back off the upright. "They were very strong in the air," conceded Salzburg midfielder Simon Cziommer, who was frustrated his team were unable to continue their impressive home form this season. "Standard are a clever, disciplined team with some excellent individuals, but in truth I don't think they were a side we should have gone out against."

Liège will face Panathinaikos FC in the last 16 after the Greek side overcame in-form AS Roma. Despite disappointing domestic results this term – Standard are sixth, 21 points adrift of leaders RCD Anderlecht – defender Sarr remains optimistic that his side can prevail, having already improved on last year's round of 32 elimination by SC Braga. "Anything is possible in this competition but things will get a lot tougher," he said. "We've learned from our experience last season, so hopefully we can make it to the quarter-finals this time round."