Early Doors

Defender Moti goes in goal for Champions League play-off shoot-out – and wins

Early Doors

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Ludogorets defender Cosmin Moti had a greater vested interest than most of his team-mates when his side faced Steaua Bucharest in their Champions League play-off clash on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old centre-back hails from Romania, and has spent most of his career at Steaua's bitter rivals Dinamo Bucharest.

With the Bulgarian minnows trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the best Moti could have hoped to contribute was a solid defensive performance and possibly a towering header from a set-piece.

Little did he know he would be saving penalties in the shoot-out.

[MATCH DETAILS: LUDOGORETS V STEAUA]

Ludogorets were set to be condemned to the Europa League when, in the dying seconds of stoppage time, Wanderson scored a cracking volley to level the tie on aggregate.

So far so good.

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But, late in extra-time, Ludogorets keeper Vladislav Stoyanov was sent off for denying Steaua a goal-scoring opportunity with a last-man foul outside the box.

Moti was handed the gloves and shirt, and put between the sticks for the subsequent penalty shoot-out.

Strangely, after winning the toss, his captain elected that Ludogorets take the first kick. Undeterred, Moti himself stood up and smashed the ball home.

What followed though was unusual to say the least. Evoking the spirit of Bruce Grobbelaar, Moti knocked his knees, danced off his line and generally played the fool as a perplexed Steaua side took their spot kicks.

The result? In addition to scoring his own penalty, Moti saved two - including the vital sudden-death spot-kick - to send the unfashionable team into the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history.

"It's the first time I played as a goalkeeper," a delighted Moti said. "It was a tough game but we're a good team and we played very well. We should have won before the penalties."

Ludogorets owner Kiril Domuschiev said he'll propose a new stand, which will be built at their 8,000-capacity Ludogorets Arena, to be named after Moti.

"He's a great player he's got the right personality and character," Domuschiev said. "If only we had more players like him..."

Ludogorets, who have won three successive league titles, are based in Razgrad - a town with a population of less than 35,000.

The match against Steaua, however, was played at the Vasil Levski national stadium in the capital Sofia because it is the only suitable arena in the Balkan country.

Domuschiev said Ludogorets could be forced to seek stadium abroad to host their matches in the group stage because the Vasil Levski stadium does not meet the UEFA requirements. The criteria are more restrictive in the group phase.

"I hope they'll allow us to improve the condition of the stadium and play here," he said. "Otherwise, we'll have to play in Albania or Macedonia..."

The Eagles became only the second Bulgarian club to reach the group stages after Levski Sofia in 2006.

Last season, Ludogorets have played 63 matches in a marathon campaign that began in mid-July 2013 and included a 16-game Europa League run in which the Razgrad-based side reached the last 16.

The only question now is who should play Moti in the Hollywood version?

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(With Reuters, Photos: Imago)

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