APOEL Nicosia again
ripped the Champions League record books to shreds and kicked
off an island party by becoming the first Cypriot team to make
the last eight of any European competition on Wednesday.
A 4-3 win on penalties over Olympique Lyon after a deserved
1-0 home victory in their last-16 second leg followed the shock
achievement of finishing top of their qualifying group in
Europe's elite club competition.
Tiny Cyprus, a minnow in European football terms, burst into
celebrations as thousands of APOEL supporters poured into the
streets of Nicosia after the nail-biting ending.
"This is a fantastic result. The team deserved this. We got
to where we wanted, with the eight best teams in Europe. Now we
feel we can move forward, and deal with any team that comes,"
APOEL chairman Phivos Erotocritou told reporters.
Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos had their
spot-kicks confidently saved by Dionisios Chiotis, who was also
unlucky that Lisandro Lopez's penalty went in off his back.
APOEL scored all four of their spot-kicks with aplomb to
send their team mates and fervent fans into delirium in the
tight GSP Stadium, with Chiotis mobbed on the pitch.
Gustavo Manduca, sent off in extra-time for a second
booking, had earlier netted at the far post on nine minutes
after Constantinos Charalambides had slid in a cross as APOEL
levelled the aggregate scores after losing the first leg 1-0.
"We knew we would have to try very hard, that it was not
going to be an easy game, but the players put in an excellent
performance," said APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic.
"I think the players were very focused and at the end we
were vindicated by our qualification. Just saying it, believe
me, it's something fantastic."
Lyon, who came into the game on the back of poor domestic
form, fielded a defensive lineup with first-leg scorer Lacazette
and top scorer Bafetimbi Gomis starting on the bench.
Manduca's goal forced under pressure Lyon coach Remi Garde
to urge his side forward and Ederson's overhit free-kick almost
sneaked in before his diving header bounced wide but that was as
close as the French side came.
"It's an immense disappointment," Lyon president Jean-Michel
Aulas said after his side bowed out at the last-16 stage for the
fifth time in six seasons.
"That first goal put us in a difficult situation. Playing
for qualification here is like playing with fire. I tip my hat
Lyon won seven French titles in a row in the last decade but
now lie seventh in Ligue 1 and are all but out of contention for
a Champions League place next term.
Rookie coach Garde's future is now up in the air despite
reaching a French League Cup final next month.
APOEL, who finished ahead of seasoned campaigners Zenit St
Petersburg, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk in their Champions League
group but lie third domestically, had set up with a more
attacking side than usual.
They gradually began to sit back after the early advantage
with the dogged defence that has shone this term again on show.
The home side still had other chances with Charalambides
blasting wide from a difficult angle, Esteban Solari's shot
being saved by Hugo Lloris and Lyon's Aly Cissokho flicking a
free-kick onto his own bar.
A previously lacklustre Lyon shaded extra-time with Gomis
and Lacazette on the field but APOEL also got forward and wasted
The build-up to the match was far from smooth with vandals
trying to dig up the pitch on Tuesday, the officials having a
flat tyre en route to the game and rain welcoming the players
before kick -ff on the often sun-baked island.
An electric atmosphere inside the arena made up for the
hiccups, however, with the second highest APOEL crowd ever of
nearly 23,000 packing the stands and hailing the monumental
achievement of a team of journeymen from around the world.
"I can't describe the tension. We couldn't have hoped for a
better result," APOEL fan Christopher Constantinou, 20, told
Reuters as he looked ahead to the last-eight draw on March 16.
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