History-making APOEL beats Lyon to reach last eight
NICOSIA - Agence France-Presse
Apoel players celebrate after winning their UEFA Champions League football match against Olympique Lyonnais. AFP photoAPOEL became the first Greek Cypriot team to reach the Champions League quarterfinals on March 7 when it beat French favorite Lyon 4-3 on penalties after its last 16 tie was level 1-1 on aggregate after extra time.
Goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis was the hero of the night after saving penalties from Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos; APOEL didn’t miss one.
“It is the worst way to go out,” Lyon’s Swedish international midfielder Kim Kallstrom said.
“Over the two games, I think we should have scored more at home. Today, it was much more balanced. And when it comes to the penalty shootout anything can happen.”
Lyon coach Remi Garde said there were “no excuses” but avoided criticizing his penalty flops.
“We win as a team and lose as a team,” he told reporters. “This is a big disappointment, we didn’t have control of the game, we had some good chances but that’s how it goes.”
Although the Cypriots rode their luck at times this was not an undeserved win as they took the game to Lyon.
A nail-biting 30 minutes of extra time saw APOEL reduced to 10 men and substitute Ivan Trickovski shooting high and wide from the edge of area on 114 minutes.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in France, unfancied APOEL got off to a perfect start when Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Manduca slotted home from close range after only nine minutes. But Manduca’s night ended in red when receiving his second yellow deep in extra time although he was still given a standing ovation.
The 23,000 sold out GSP stadium was a wall of deafening sound and a sea of orange as APOEL’s fanatical fans spurred the team on during the biggest game in the club’s 85-year history.
A large banner in the home stand read: “Feel the terror of Nicosia” as APOEL’s vociferous support ensured a hostile atmosphere for the French visitors.
Ever since the draw for the last 16 was made, APOEL was hopeful the tie would be decided at home and the fixture was set up perfectly with the Cypriots only trailing 1-0 from the first leg from a Lacazette strike.
Lyon began the match nervously but edged back into the game after going behind so early. The French knew an away goal would get them out of jail and Bastos should have done better than send his header over the bar from six yards on the half hour.
Then Ederson came close with glancing header from the same range but his effort went agonisingly wide of the far post.
Ederson also saw his free kick curling into the top corner pawed away by Chiotis.
The home side always looked dangerous on the break while playing a patient passing game hoping for cracks to appear in the Lyon defence.
Star striker Ailton was a constant threat winning fouls in the opposition half and proving a wily customer while Helder Sousa was tireless in midfield.
APOEL came out for the second half confident they could achieve another unlikely giant killing act.
And lady luck nearly smiled on the Nicosia club when a Helder Sousa free kick wide on the left was headed on to his own bar by Aly Cissokho.
Argentine forward Estaban Solari almost turned in a Constantinos Charalambides’ driven cross from three yards only to see it flash across the goal on 71 minutes.
And two minutes later an unmarked Lisandro should have put the tie beyond doubt with a header that Chiotis tipped round the post for a corner.
With victory, APOEL continued its magical adventure after punching above its weight against more illustrious sides such as Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and now Lyon.
In terms of budget and status, APOEL is the smallest club left in the competition.
APOEL is the most decorated team in Greek Cypriot football. A founder member of the Cyprus Football Association, the team was formed in a sweet shop 85 years ago.