BRIGHTON, England (AP) — Julio Enciso’s stunning long-range strike secured Brighton’s qualification for the Europa League in a 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Wednesday.
The Paraguay international unleashed an unstoppable effort from around 25 meters to even the score after Phil Foden had fired Premier League champion City ahead at Amex Stadium.
A point means Brighton is guaranteed to finish sixth, its highest-ever final position in English soccer’s top flight.
It marks an outstanding first season in charge for manager Roberto de Zerbi, who only took over from Graham Potter in September after the former Brighton boss left for Chelsea.
“It’s a fantastic goal, we achieved an incredible target,” De Zerbi said. “Man City is the best team in the world. For us it was a very tough game. We deserve the point. We deserve the Europa League.”
The club faced an uncertain future at the time but has gone on to flourish under the Italian, who also led the team to the semifinals of the FA Cup this season.
Sixth place beats Brighton’s previous highest finish of ninth, which it achieved under Potter last year.
“You never know in the early part of the season what may happen when you hire a new coach,” Brighton chairman Tony Bloom said. “Fortunately we hired the perfect man. The players have taken to him so magnificently. His motivational skills, tactical skills and getting the best out of our players has been absolutely superb.”
The draw ended City’s 12-game winning streak in the league, which had seen Pep Guardiola’s team overhaul long-time leader Arsenal at the top and win a fifth title six years.
With a third league championship already wrapped up, City had little to play for other than improving its points total.
“The game we played, 48 hours after we drank all the alcohol in Manchester, 48 hours later we behaved and we showed why we were the champions against that team,” Guardiola joked in reference to City’s title celebrations on Sunday.
Having rested a number of his star players against Chelsea on Sunday, Guardiola recalled Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne to his starting lineup, with John Stones, Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva also back.
Haaland twice had chances to open the scoring before turning provider for Foden to put City ahead in the 25th minute.
At the other end, Danny Welbeck had already hit the crossbar with a free-kick.
The equalizer came from Enciso and it was a strike worthy sending his team to the heights of the Europa League as he launched a right-footed shot into the top corner in the 38th.
Haaland thought he had scored his 53rd goal of the season with a late header, but it was ruled out by VAR after he was adjudged to have pulled Levi Colwill’s shirt beforehand.