Matias Degra's unbeaten record from eight spot kicks means he is idolised by AEL Limassol FC's passionate fans but the goalkeeper insists there are higher forces at work.
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AEL Limassol FC goalkeeper Matias Degra is unbeaten from the last eight penalty attempts he has faced but he says he cannot take all the credit – it is at least part divine intervention.
Degra stands at an already towering 1.93m yet when the ball is on the spot he seems to grow in stature, a giant among men. Two weeks ago VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach's Oscar Wendt became the latest to fall under his spell. With 98 minutes on the clock and the scores locked at 0-0 in Nicosia, Wendt knew the UEFA Europa League spoils would be secured if he could beat Degra. However, like seven unfortunates before him, the visiting skipper could not do it.
"This is God's doing, not mine," Degra says, his crossbar possibly still shaking. AEL's fans also believe the sequence must be more than fate: they have, after all, begun referring to their custodian as Saint Degra, protector of the AEL goal. The Argentinian remains a bastion of modesty, attempting to distance himself from his achievements for Greek sides Veria FC and Asteras Tripolis FC and now AEL.
Team-mate Luciano Bebê says the success is well earned, saying: "He is a great keeper with incredible quality and this ability to make opponents believe he will save their spot kicks. It is something quite unique; it cannot be explained." Degra's feats are not restricted to penalties, though, and his record of conceding just ten goals in 32 appearances underpinned AEL's charge to their first league title since 1968 last term.
There will be another slice of history made on Thursday when AEL visit Olympique de Marseille on the Cypriot team's 82nd anniversary, but Degra is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "This competition is a great experience for us," he said. "All our opponents are difficult so we just need to take every game as it comes.
"The fact that the other game [Marseille against Fenerbahçe SK] ended in a draw means that, essentially, we all start from the beginning again so that's a positive. Let's hope we can get something out of this game too." With Degra's spot-kick prowess they have a chance.
Degra's spot-on sequence
20.09.2012 – Oscar Wendt, VfL Borussia Mönchegladbach (woodwork)
03.09.2012 – Ricardo Fernandes, Doxa Katokopia FC (saved)
18.03.2012 – Hristijan Kirovski, Apollon Limassol FC (saved)
12.02.2012 – Vincent Laban, Anorthosis Famagusta FC (saved)
15.10.2011 – Esteban Solari, APOEL FC (saved)
27.08.2011 – Diego León, Nea Salamis Famagusta FC (missed)
Asteras Tripolis FC
17.10.2010 – Tümer Metin, Larissa FC (saved)
22.02.2009 – Christos Aravidis, Ethnikos Asteras FC (saved)