Vahid Halilhodzic said Nantes’ 1-1 draw with Saint-Etienne was the hardest match of his career after the Ligue 1 club paid emotional tributes to their missing former player Emiliano Sala.
On Wednesday, Nantes played their first match since Sala went missing onboard a private jet on January 21 having completed a transfer to Cardiff City days before.
Nine days on, authorities believe the only trace of the aircraft they have found are two seat cushions that were discovered on Monday.
After hearing of Sala’s disappearance, Nantes pushed back their match with Saint-Etienne and arranged for numerous marks of respect for the striker.
Players took to the pitch in shirts bearing Sala’s name, there was a cover showing his face in the centre circle and the match was stopped in the ninth minute for applause.
Once the game got underway, Nantes fell behind to a Remy Cabella strike but sealed a point thanks to Abdul Majeed Waris.
However, the result was not important to Halilhodzic, who was proud his players got through a difficult night.
“This is probably the toughest game I had to prepare,” he told reporters. “My team showed a great attitude … the reaction after the opener…I told my players ‘I am very proud of you’.
— FC Nantes (@FCNantes) January 30, 2019
“After a difficult start, we then controlled the game, we had a few chances, which is why I said that my players were exceptional in such a context. I told them that we will win the other matches with such an attitude, it is really a reaction of pride.
“We will never forget Emiliano, he is an exceptional boy. I hope the boys will smile again.
“I want to congratulate the fans and the players for the dignity of this evening.”
Midfielder Valentin Rongier echoed his coach’s comments, saying: “It was an evening with a lot of feelings but we tried to give our best. I think we achieved that.
“It was very hard, especially at the beginning when we came onto the pitch. It took time for us to focus.”
Meanwhile, Abdoulaye Toure added: “We knew there would be a lot of emotion. That’s why we needed to play good because he [Sala] gave us so much for many years.”
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