While Aris Thessaloniki FC captain Sergio Koke contemplated a possible round of 32 place after beating Club Atlético de Madrid, the holders were left fearing an early exit.
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Aris Thessaloniki FC forward Sergio Koke believes "only a catastrophe" can prevent his team reaching the UEFA Europa League round of 32 at the expense of holders Club Atlético de Madrid after Hector Cúper's side got the better of Los Colchoneros for a second time on Wednesday night.
Having already claimed a 1-0 opening-day triumph against the Liga outfit in Group B in September, the Greek club thwarted their Spanish opponents once again at the Vicente Calderón, running out 3-2 winners thanks to two Koke goals and a late clincher from Nikos Lazaridis.
Consequently, with both teams level on seven points and Aris in front on head-to-head record, Cúper's men will go into their final group game at home to already eliminated Rosenborg BK needing only to emulate Atlético's result at section winners Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
"I'm so proud of the performance we put in here," a delighted Koke told UEFA.com. "I'm delighted for our victory and of course for the goals I scored too. My family and friends were here to see me and that made it all the more special."
The 27-year-old Andalusian began his career with home-town Málaga CF before spells at Olympique de Marseille and Sporting Clube de Portugal, and eventually landing at Aris in 2006. "It's always great to come back and perform in Spain," the attacker said. "But after I speak with my loved ones tonight, my focus will be on our game against Rosenborg [on 16 December].
"We'll be looking to achieve qualification by winning that one and we hope we can cope with the pressure of knowing destiny is in our own hands," Koke added. "The Aris fans gave a special example of what supporting a team is tonight. They were perfectly behaved and were behind us throughout the 90 minutes. You can bet they will be right behind us again in our next match. Only a catastrophe can stop us going through now."
Meanwhile, a bewildered Atlético captain Antonio López admitted that "before kick-off losing this match obviously never crossed our minds". Despite the setback of going behind in the second minute to the Thessaloniki outfit, the hosts quickly rallied and were ahead shortly after 16 minutes through goals from Diego Forlán and Sergio Agüero. Yet after the ecstasy of lifting the trophy last May, López told UEFA.com that the despair of an early exit this season is now a real possibility.
"We're all very upset, but that's football," he said. "We were never really comfortable while leading and when they hit the third we couldn't respond. All we can do now is win our last game in Germany and cross our fingers that Aris don't win theirs. Let's see what happens."