Valencia manager Marcelino Garcia Toral believes Jeremy Toljan’s dismissal for Celtic proved to be key behind their Europa League win on Thursday.
Following last week’s 2-0 win at Celtic Park, Valencia got off to a sluggish start against the Scottish champions in the return leg of their last-32 tie in Spain.
With nothing to lose anymore, Celtic began an all-out attack from the very beginning at the Mestalla with Kristoffer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic testing the hosts’ defence early on.
But Toljan’s sending-off towards the end of the first half for twice pulling back Goncalo Guedes turned the tide of the game to Valencia’s favour.
Kevin Gameiro later scored a 70th-minute match-winner for Los Che to secure them a 3-0 aggregate win over Celtic and a place in the next round.
“We are satisfied about going through, although I didn’t like the first 35 minutes at all. We have to consider it logical, when you have as favourable a result as a 0-2 scoreline from the first leg, that there is some relaxation that sneaks in,” said Marcelino on the club website.
“Our opposition were the better side at that stage, but after the sending off we dominated and had chances to score more goals.”
Meanwhile, Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers agreed with Marcelino that Toljan’s dismissal changed the game and argued that the referee should have awarded them a free-kick instead.
“I thought that we were much the superior team up until that point,” said Rodgers on the red card decision.
“I think our shape worked really well for us, and we started the game very well. We pressed at the right times and carried a threat in our penetration.
“We looked like we were building our way through, but I thought the referee took the game away from us. I didn’t think it was a second yellow, if anything I thought it was a free-kick to us.”
Valencia will discover who they will meet in the Round of 16 in the Europa League today at 1:00 PM (CET).
The two-legged ties will take place between March 7 and March 21.