Filippo Giovagnoli hailed his side’s victory over Sheriff Tiraspol as “something special” but said he never doubted Dundalk would get the job done in a penalty shoot-out.
Veaceslav Posmac’s goal at the Sheriff Stadium in Transnistria gave the hosts an eighth minute lead but Zoran Zekic’s side were pegged back by a Sean Murray header in first-half stoppage time before the Louth men won 5-4 on penalties after extra-time.
Speaking afterwards, Giovagnoli said: “I’m really happy for the players and to be honest I really enjoyed it. Inside me I knew that we were going through because I trust this group.
“I’m always positive but they made me trust them by the way that they behave and the way that they train. For me, I was sure.”
The Italian, who replaced Vinny Perth as interim head coach last month, praised his side for sticking to the game plan after falling behind so early.
“That was the moment to stay focused and stick to the plan, which we did. We reacted well. We didn’t panic and we didn’t lose our composure and this was the key.
“To be honest our goalie wasn’t busy at all. They scored an amazing goal so sometimes you have to say bravo to the opponent but it’s all good. The players did well but I think we can do better than that. We are improving and we are learning but we will do better than that.
“I think we managed the game well because you can’t forget that this team is really strong. They’re a huge club, they’re really rich and they have a lot of players. They have more than 30 professional players so what we did tonight is something special.”
Giovagnoli also revealed that captain Chris Shields had asked him beforehand to take the decisive spot kick.
“It was a good atmosphere,” he said of the build-up to the shoot-out.
“They were asking me to kick a penalty. Chris Shields ask me ‘can you please let me f***ing kick a penalty’ and I said yes of course. I asked which one and he said the fifth one. He was crazy. Then at the end he said ‘I told you’.”
Dundalk are now 90 minutes away from the Europa League group stages and will meet Faroese side KÍ Klaksvik next Thursday in what could be a €3 million pay day for them.
Before then they host Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park in the SSE Airtricity League on Sunday – a game which will be shown live on RTÉ Two – and Giovagnoli said that is now his main focus.
“I have to think for the next game now and stay focused because it’s a really important league game and we want to do well.
“I have players ready to play this game and ready to perform so we’ll prepare for that and then we’ll prepare from Monday for the other game. We have to respect step by step, don’t panic, stay calm and relaxed and do what we have to do,” he said.