Cyprus was celebrating on
Thursday after little APOEL Nicosia achieved mission impossible
by qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
APOEL became the first Cypriot team to reach the last eight
when they beat Olympique Lyon 4-3 on penalties on Wednesday
after the tie had finished 1-1 on aggregate.
"I feel joy and relief," goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis told
UEFA.com. "We've achieved something no one would have thought
possible at the start of the season."
Footballing jubilation came as a welcome respite from the
daily grind of the economic downturn in the country and the
seemingly never-ending talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots
over a deal on reunification of the island.
"David once beat Goliath so you can imagine how an APOEL
supporter feels today about this string of victories over
Goliath for the past six months," said Mayor of Nicosia
Cyprus, a minnow in European football terms, burst into
celebrations as thousands of APOEL supporters poured on to the
streets of Nicosia after the nail-biting triumph.
APOEL scored all four of their spot-kicks with aplomb but
their hero was Chiotis who saved penalties from Alexandre
Lacazette and Michel Bastos to send the crowd into raptures.
Gustavo Manduca, sent off in extra-time for a second
booking, had netted in the ninth minute to earn APOEL a 1-0
victory in the second leg.
"That was an amazing night - it will live in our memories
for many years," said midfielder Manduca.
"We've made history for this country and we're proud of
that. We want to enjoy this moment."
APOEL have won five of their seven home games in this
season's competition, losing only to Shakhtar Donetsk, and
Manduca said the fans had played a massive part in the campaign.
"The crowd showed us again what they are about, they're just
amazing," he said. "They give us so much help we feel like we
have more players on our side."
Manduca will be suspended for the first leg of the
quarter-finals and he is clear about the teams APOEL want to
avoid in next week's draw.
"I don't want Barcelona. No one wants them, or Real Madrid,"
"Every team is bigger than us and has more history than us
but we'll enjoy the games and we'll continue to dream - why
Fellow midfielder Nuno Morais said APOEL's great team ethic
carried them over the line.
"We knew we had only one chance," he said. "We didn't know
if we would get another opportunity to get through so we had to
"We've made a great effort in every game and we have a
fantastic team in which everybody helps each other. We deserve
to be here."
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