When you walk onto the pitch and hear the champions league anthem, there is no feeling like it. UEFA Champions League is one of, if not the most, prestigious club tournaments in the world. To be able to play in one of these games is a privilege, an honor, and an experience that not every professional soccer player gets to be a part of. For me, it is one, of many, reasons I came back to play for Rossiyanka. Knowing that this fall we were guaranteed to be in the round of 32 was very exciting for me. We drew Spartak Sabotica from Serbia for our round of 32 match. Not only did I get to play in Champions League again, but I got to visit two more countries that I have never been to.
Going into this game vs. Spartak we were the favorites. I am used to playing the underdog role, but this was a bit different. Most people had us going through to the next round no problem, but that doesn’t mean that we weren’t going to have to work for it. We were away first which is what I would prefer, and arrived in Serbia the day before our match. I did not get to sight see much of the town we stayed in, but the pregame walk that we took as a team was just enough. Going into the game, we didn’t know much about Spartak, but we did know that in their domestic league they score a lot of goals. We have had a lot of trouble this season scoring goals, so it was important to go into this game with an underdog attitude. They came out fast and scored in under five minutes. The only good thing about going down so fast was that it was the wakeup call we needed. We ended the first leg 4-2 which gave us a huge advantage having that many away goals. When they came to our home field we knew that they needed 3 goals to go through. Once again they scored in under five minutes. After that we got ourselves together and controlled most of the game. We ended in a 1-1 tie with the overall aggregate 5-3. I couldn’t be happier that we were through to the round of 16 in which we drew Torres from Italy.
Torres and Rossiyanka both made it to the quarter finals last season, so for one of these two teams it would be another return and for the other it would be a sad season ending defeat. I would say that we had a little more to lose, knowing that this was our last chance to be able to play in the champions league in the upcoming year. This time roles were reversed and we had the home game for the first leg. We knew it would be a battle going into this game, and we stepped up to the challenge. Scoring an early goal helped us and that was the way the game would end. It was a lot of back and forth. Both teams had chances, but we were able to capitalize. Now it was Torres’ turn to have the home field advantage. I was very excited to visit this country on the island of Sardinia. We arrived a few days early due to the travel time, and that allowed us as a team to sight see one of the days before a late training session. Italy is beautiful! When I picture a small Italian city, Sassari was exactly that. The free time was nice, but we were there for business. You could see in our pregame training that our heads weren’t where they needed to be. We were not as focused as we should have been. That transferred over into the game and we came out flat. It is always easier playing in front of your home fans, and for Torres they used the hype and environment to their advantage and came out firing. They also scored an early goal making the aggregate 1-1. All we needed was one goal and it was a huge uphill battle for Torres, but we were not coming together as a team. It was like watching the Rossiyanka that we were at the beginning of the season. We lost that game 2-0 and it was extremely disappointing.
We may have won the battle, but we lost the war. Not getting into the quarter finals again was not what many thought would happen after coming away from the first leg in the lead, but now it’s back to square one in qualifying all over again. Champions league is the best of the best. It’s an amazing feeling to be out on that field knowing that on the club level you are not only representing your team, but the country and the league you play in as well. Playing at a high level, and getting to see the world as I do that, is an opportunity of a lifetime. I am very fortunate to have been able to have played in this tournament for two seasons, and hope to have the opportunity to play in champions league again.