Brighton & Hove Albion’s European debut was marred by disappointment as they suffered an unexpected setback at the hands of Greek champions, AEK Athens. A late goal from substitute Ezequiel Ponce secured victory for them despite Joao Pedro scoring two penalty spot goals for Brighton; Lewis Dunk was absent through injury which further compounded their difficulties.
With a challenging fixture against Marseille looming, followed by a doubleheader against the formidable four-time European champions Ajax, Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi acknowledged the need for swift adaptation to their new European surroundings.
De Zerbi expressed disappointment over his team’s lack of experience, noting that “we can learn and must learn.” Though they didn’t show enough experience compared to AEK’s players, De Zerbi noted they played with personality and attitude, controlling and dominating the game throughout. Although disappointed at the outcome of the matchup with our fans and club being disappointed by us not winning, but De Zerbi noted they can take away valuable lessons for future games: “But we will learn.”
Dunk, who missed the AEK Athens clash due to injury, is expected to return, along with teenage forward Evan Ferguson, who was sidelined due to illness, for Sunday’s Premier League encounter with Bournemouth. Despite making seven changes from the side that recently triumphed over Manchester United at Old Trafford, De Zerbi refrained from criticizing his players, emphasizing that he couldn’t be happy with one win and then despondent after a good performance.
“I believe in our work every day,” stated Matias Almeyda. “Nobody should underestimate us; we were aware of their greatness; yet, we remained standing tall.
As Brighton continues their European journey, the lesson from their European debut is clear: experience and adaptability will be the key to success in the challenging Europa League group stages.