APOEL Nicosia became the
first team from Cyprus to reach the Champions League knockout
stage after holding Zenit St Petersburg to a 0-0 draw in a
scrappy Group G match on Wednesday.
The Cypriot champions continued their dream run by
withstanding a furious onslaught from the home side to collect
the point they needed to secure their passage into the last 16
with a game to spare.
APOEL's Serbian coach Ivan Jovanovic hailed his team's
"This is a fantastic result for our team. Of course, we're a
small team compared to many European giants but we have a big
heart," he told reporters.
"We have good players who try hard every single game and
they also have a great desire to achieve something really
important. I think these factors have been the key to our
success on the pitch."
APOEL, who have beaten Zenit and Porto in a dream campaign,
remain the only unbeaten team in the group and have nine points.
Even if they were to lose their final game at home to Shakhtar
Donetsk they are still guaranteed a top-two spot because of
their superior head-to-head record against Zenit and Porto.
German referee Felix Brych was forced to halt the game for
several minutes late in the first half after Zenit supporters
lit flares and the pitch became enveloped with heavy smoke.
The match was interrupted again shortly after the interval
for the same reason and Brych decided to continue only after
Zenit's Italian coach Luciano Spalletti and midfielder Roman
Shirokov appealed to the fans to stop their fireworks.
"The ref had told us that if this was to happen again he
would cancel the game and we would get a technical 3-0 defeat,"
Shirokov told Russian television NTV Plus.
"I tried to explain that to the fans but my pleas were
falling on deaf ears. They are real idiots, what else can you
say?" added the outspoken Russia international, who boldly
predicted victory for his team and also dismissed APOEL as
nothing more than pretenders before the match.
"As for the game, APOEL defended really well. They were very
compact at the back. We tried to break their defence with quick
passes but the [soggy] pitch didn't help us."
After the smoke had cleared, the home side kept on pushing
forward in search of a goal but the delay seemed to disrupt
Zenit, missing injured striker Alexander Kerzhakov, the
leading scorer in the Russian league this season, wasted
numerous chances, Shirokov and lanky forward Alexander Bukharov
being the biggest culprits.
Shirokov missed twice with the goal at his mercy and
Bukharov headed against the crossbar midway through the second
With influential Portugal playmaker Danny struggling to
shake off a knee injury, the Russian champions were missing that
decisive final pass.
At the other end, the visitors rarely threatened Zenit
keeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev, and lone Brazilian striker Ailton
was substituted midway through the second half.
The referee added more than 10 minutes of stoppage-time
because of the delays but the Cypriots held on to continue their
run of not conceding more than one goal in their last 17
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