Beaming faces, players hugging each other and the party was only just beginning with the final whistle.
With the 1-0 last-minute win against Feyenoord Rotterdam (match report >>>), SK Sturm Graz once again proved in this European Cup season that the development curve of the “Blackies” is pointing steeply upwards.
Anything is possible on the last day of the game, and you can climb up on your own. But for now, the people of Graz are enjoying the moment – and everyone is raving about Otar Kiteishvili’s golden goal. Ironically, the Georgian was the match winner in the revenge against the Dutch.
The 26-year-old had to go through so much, sliding from one injury to the next and longing so much to write sporting headlines again. He sure has it now. Accordingly, Kiteishvili made it emotionally clear on “Sky”: “It meant everything to me. The last few hard months were worth it.”
“The feeling was worth it to go through everything”
Only coming on as a substitute in the 56th minute, the midfield director took over the game, boosted Graz’s final offensive and decided the game with a remarkable volley after he had put the ball in an exemplary manner with his chest.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of coming in 0-0 and scoring the game-winning goal in the last minute,” said Kiteishvili, visibly touched. He was already being hugged by his teammates on the pitch, and he shed a few tears of joy in the process.
The months of torment including setbacks on the rocky road back were forgotten. “The feeling was worth getting through everything I’ve been through in the last few months. An incredible feeling and I couldn’t ask for anything better. It was an incredible team effort in the second half.”
The Georgian midfielder couldn’t really put his feelings into words. So the others took over, namely his coach and his team-mates, who were immensely happy for him and also underlined the importance of Kiteishvili for Sturm.
Ilzer sensed Kiteishvili’s enormous intent
It was not for nothing that he took over the captain’s ribbon from Stefan Hierländer and didn’t have to give it up when Jakob Jantscher came into the game in the final minutes. Another proof of his importance in the team. Everyone gave him the goal that evening.
“I felt that he had great intentions and that he was rewarded. It was a very emotional moment that I have rarely experienced in my career,” said trainer Christian Ilzer, happy for his protégé. “He’s really suffered for a long, long time so I’m happy for him that he gave us this beautiful win.”
The not so easy time left its mark on the player and his environment. Above all, Ilzer emphasizes the mental component in times of frustration and setbacks. Even if he recently showed his football again, the last tick in terms of intensity was still missing.
For Ilzer, Kiteishvili was “the player par excellence with us” before his injury, but others have also developed in the meantime. This does not change the importance of the veteran:
“He’s the kind of personality who can handle it really well and says, ‘I have to go there because that’s where I can help the team’. This time he showed he can decide games on his own and that was fantastic. He stuck with it , stayed focused, never faltered and always set high goals. Now he’s gotten the reward.”
Wüthrich: “He’s an amazing player”
His teammates also went into raptures and expressed their joy at Kiteishvili’s moment of success in touching words.
“The fact that Kiti then also scored the decisive goal makes me extremely happy for him after the long period of suffering. He’s an amazing kicker and we need him as a team. If he’s fit, he can make the difference,” said defender Gregory Wuthrich clear.
Goalkeeper Jörg Siebenhandl, who also put in a top performance and often saved his team from falling behind, also knows how important the return of the former exceptional talent is for the team.
“He was injured for a long time. He’s played more again now and he scored the goal the way he can. I think he made some of the team happy,” said the Sturm goalkeeper.
“I tell him every day that he is a little magician”
Kiteishvili received special praise from David Affengruber, who held the defense together with Wüthrich. Actually, the Georgian always gets praise from him, and not just at this moment.
“I always say he’s a little magician. I tell him that every day. He showed it again this time by accepting the ball and shooting. He made all of Graz happy,” said Affengruber .
Ivan Ljubic said Kiteishvili deserved this moment and: “He is a very important player for us.” Who will also take the next step in terms of intensity in the near future in order to experience even more match practice and moments like these.
With his goal, he opened the door to the knockout stages of the Europa League very wide. Now Sturm only has to go through in the final away game at Midtjylland. With the “magic” of an Otar Kiteishvili this is certainly possible.