That is how the match went out: 1-1 at half time, 1-2 after full time and 0-0 in the 30 minutes Poli played in 9 men. It was indeed a great night for football, which started perfectly for Poli right in the second minute, when a long diagonal pass, excellently headed by Stancu found Bucur in front of the Dutch defenders. The small striker struggled to lay down the ball, and lost a pace or two, but was inspired to turn around and found Goga who put it past Stekelenburg.
However, Poli's defense was as shaky as ever, with Nibombe struck down by a cold in the short time before the matchday. Not confident on Scutaru and Mera to form the centre of defense, Sabău relied heavily on improvisations. Bonfim was brough from the right flank to play as the third central midfielder, and Karamyan was pulled down the field. It was the armeanean who was totally baffled by Luis Suárez on our left flank. It's true that the ball was deflected somewhat luckily to the Uruguayan, who then hit the ball with exterior, shaming Pantilimon at the near post, a bit before the 10 minute mark.
The rest of the first half was quite balanced, with both teams getting quite close to goal. Ajax tried to prove their worth through their speed and our patched-up defense, but really it was their strikers - Suárez and Pantelić - who were the most dangerous, and the most forgiving, as both missed a series of good occasions. Poli's possessive play wasn't that good, with Magera in bad shape. At most times, he was one step behind the ball, and his frustration grew as he couldn't find his place on the pitch. It was he who offered the ball to the opponents, letting Pantelić have the first opportunity in the 4th minute. The Czech almost put it in from a free kick, after another try, but from the other side, by Bourceanu. The latter, also came close to score after a well worked attack from the whole team, but Stekelenburg dived to save it. The second half was looking open to any outcome.
And it start it, like the first, with an early goal. Pantelić was found perfectly between our defenders, who were neither marking the Serb, nor playing for offside, and it was a mere formality for him to score. The disaster struck in the 53rd minute, when in a similar situation, Bonfim desperately struggled to catch Donald, who decided to fall in the box. The unforgiving Italian referee decided: penalty and elimination. A hastened decision if you ask me, enhanced by some dubious offside positions uncalled by the linesman, who seemed a tad slow and bad-sighted. The high-tech transmission also seemed to be defective or otherwise reluctant to show concludent replays.
But in such situations, fighters do not let down, but rise to stand tall, as Pantilimon saved Suárez's poor penalty. Bucur could have made a miracle when he darted towards goal but was stopped by an disproportionate duel. This time, however, the ref decided no foul. In the 62nd minute, Stancu was outrun by Suárez and his effort to deflect the ball only let the Uruguayan a clear path to goal. Pantilimon was late and toppled him just inside the box. Once again, penalty and elimination. Taborda came in for Bucur, as the crowd chanted both goalkeepers' names. Suárez once again, different man in front of him, but the rest was the same. Same shot, another save, and the Uruguayan sealed his title of goof of the Europa League: 27 shots on goal, only 2 in the back of the net.
With 2 men down, Poli had little to say offensively, but played sturdy to keep the Dutchmen far from goal. Ajax also seemed not wanting to push, as their qualification was set in stone, but still had lots of opportunities, including two coming off the top post. The only spark was coming from their captain whose frustration grew and grew, one huge miss after the other.
A good, ambitious play from Poli throughout the match, but the poor defense made its definite mark at the end of a high-spirited night. Kudos to all the players for their dedication! The team left the field after their last match at home in the Europa League this season, in the applause of the whole crowd.
Poli: Pantilimon (5,5) - Bonfim (4), Scutaru (4,5), Mera (5,5) - Stancu (5,5), Bourceanu (6,5), Alexa (6,5), Art. Karamyan (5,5) - Bucur (6), Magera (5,5), Goga (6,5)
Parks (5,5) for Magera (min 50)
Taborda (6,5) for Bucur (min 62)
Maxim for Goga (min 73)