Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi CAN'T watch Joao Pedro take his match-winning penalty against AEK to seal a place for the Seagulls in Europa League knockout rounds
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Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi CAN'T watch Joao Pedro take his match-winning penalty against AEK to seal a place for the Seagulls in Europa League knockout rounds

Jan 18, 2024

Brighton head coach was unable to face watching Joao Pedro’s match-winning penalty against AEK in Thursday evening’s Europa League tie. 

The Italian manager is noted for his high-octane appearances in the dugout, frequently seeming to share the emotion – or frustration – of the fans in the stands. 

This behaviour continued in Athens, with the former Shakhtar Donetsk coach appearing to be unwilling to tempt fate. 

In a video circulated by TNT Sports, De Zerbi makes a sharp turn towards his ranks of coaching assistants on the sidelines as Pedro steps up to the spot, and can only express a sigh of release as the away crowd inside the Opap Arena erupted as his player slots the ball past Cican Stankovic. 

Rather than celebrating, De Zerbi then headed back to the outer reaches of his area to continue surveying the match.  

Roberto De Zerbi seemed unable to watch Joao Pedro's penalty in Athens on Thursday night

Roberto De Zerbi seemed unable to watch Joao Pedro's penalty in Athens on Thursday night

Roberto De Zerbi seemed unable to watch Joao Pedro’s penalty in Athens on Thursday night

Rather than joining in with the exuberant celebrations on his bench, De Zerbi quietly went back to wait for the restart on the edge of his area

Rather than joining in with the exuberant celebrations on his bench, De Zerbi quietly went back to wait for the restart on the edge of his area

The forward's penalty was the solitary goal necessary for Brighton to book their spot in the next round of the Europa League with a game in hand

The forward’s penalty was the solitary goal necessary for Brighton to book their spot in the next round of the Europa League with a game in hand

De Zerbi is far from the only footballing figure afficted with what could be mistaken for a touch of nerves. 

Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana was caught acting similarly during the club’s Champions League tie against Copenhagen at Parken, facing the away fans and staring unflichingly away from his team-mate Bruno Fernandes’ effort. 

Although the Portugal international found his target, the penalty wasn’t enough to save United’s bacon, with the home side beating Erik ten Hag’s side 4-3.  

After going down to 10 men within 10 minutes of Brighton taking the lead in the Greek capital after Mijat Gacinovic picked up a second yellow card, the Seagulls were able to clinch a spot in the competition’s knockout stage with a game in hand. 

Captain Lewis Dunk hailed his players on a ‘historic night’ for the club, who are playing in their first ever European campaign. 

‘(It’s) one I will never forget,’ the England international added. 

‘If you can’t celebrate the good times with your fans, when can you do it? It is a huge achievement for us.’

But De Zerbi was less sanguine about his team’s performance as he stressed that his side had not played well to claim victory on foreign soil. 

‘Athens were better than us but it was the first time in my time in Brighton we have won a game in this way,’ De Zerbi said after the final whistle. 

But, the head coach conceded: ‘we didn’t play in our way but we played with great character, great soul and great passion.’

The one note of trouble on a heaven-sent night for the south coast club came in the stands, where travelling fans were hit with tear gas by Greek police during an attempt to disperse home supporters. 

Authorities were keen to break up a patch of fans loitering by the Perspex partitions separating the two sets of supporters, but in doing so, left scores of Brighton fans covering their mouths and noses to avoid inhaling the noxious substance. 

De Zerbi looked in higher spirits after the final whistle, but stressed he wasn't entirely happy with his team's performance

De Zerbi looked in higher spirits after the final whistle, but stressed he wasn’t entirely happy with his team’s performance

Andre Onana showed a similar sense of superstition when he chose to face his own net rather than watch Bruno Fernandes step up to take Man United's penalty

Andre Onana showed a similar sense of superstition when he chose to face his own net rather than watch Bruno Fernandes step up to take Man United’s penalty

The evening was somewhat marred when Brighton fans were exposed to tear gas in the stands

The evening was somewhat marred when Brighton fans were exposed to tear gas in the stands

On the contrary, the club’s police liason officer was quick to praise the travellers for their ‘excellent’ behaviour in a post shared on X (formerly Twitter). 

‘A number of cannisters were fired resulting in the gas coming back into the stadium due to the still night,’ PC Darren Balkham wrote. ‘I know a number of you were affected (as were we) we gave reassurance to those who needed it straight after and informed fans of what had happened.

‘To be clear this was not aimed at Brighton fans at all and police have praised your excellent behaviour.’

In a statement from the team itself, supporters were dubbed ‘a credit to the club’ for their behaviour pre-, during, and post-match. 

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