Anorthosis come from behind to win, Apollon with work to do

Anorthosis come from behind to win, Apollon with work to do
 

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - 1ST QUALIFYING ROUND (LEG 1)

Anorthosis 2 - 1 Laci
Pranjic (P) 52'
Cisse 59'

Hoxhallari 21'

It was a mixed bag for Cypriot teams in Thursday’s UEFA Europa League qualifiers. Anorthosis rallied back to gain a slight edge on Laci, but Apollon have left themselves a challenge of sorts with a narrow away loss to Sturmbras. 

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Anorthosis hosted Albanian side KF Laci in Larnaca at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium with some new faces in their lineup. However, due to a previous ban, the match was played behind closed doors. Nonetheless, it was the visitors who got the early jump, and in the 21st minute, Erjon Hoxhollari had the payoff, beating new Anorthosis’ new Portuguese goalkeeper Mario Felgueiras. Laci would retain heading into the halftime break. 

What manager Ronny Levy said at halftime must have worked, as Anorthosis were in the mood to fight back, and fight back they did, earning a penalty in the 52nd minute. Danijel Pranjic made no mistake and converted the penalty for the equalizer. Only a few minutes later, Anorthosis earned a corner, and again made their Albanian visitors pay, as the ball ricocheted to Sekou Cisse who beat Gantian Selmani low, with a cool, composed finish. Anorthosis earned their home win by a 2:1 margin, giving them a slight advantage heading into the return leg in Albania. 

Another win or a draw would be good enough to advance, as well as any loss by one goal in which Anorthosis would score 2 or more goals. A 2:1 loss would force extra time, a 1:0 loss would send Anorthosis out, as would any loss by two or more goals.


Stumbras 1 - 0 Apollon Limassol
Matcharashvili 90'+1'

Meanwhile, Apollon paid a visit to a very rainy Kaunas, Lithuania to visit Lithuanian side, Stumbras. Despite the waterlogged pitch, Apollon were ready to go. 

Sasa Markovic had an early free kick, but it was easily saved by Rodrigo Josviaki. Markovic then looked to set up Joao Pedro, but the shot screamed wide of the net. Another free kick from Giorgos Vasiliou rang off the bar and stayed out, as well. The rain grew so heavy, the players were taken off the pitch after 28 minutes. Play resumed about an hour later, with the rain less heavy, but the pitch even more saturated with water. Soon after play resumed, an attempt by Vasiliou hit the post. Fotis Papoulis got a touch on the rebound that under normal circumstances probably would have gone in, but the ball hit a puddle and remained loose shy of the goal line. Papoulis attempted a second touch, but slipped as he tried to shoot and the ball was cleared away. One last attempt before the half came from Charalambos Kyriakou, but Josviaki made the save for a scoreless opening half.

In the second half, Apollon continued to carry the play, and again Papoulis lost his footing on a golden opportunity, sending the ball over the net. Shortly before the clock hit 90, disaster struck for the visitors. With Apollon aggressively pressing up the pitch, a pass intended for Markovic was misplayed and Levan Matcharashvili pounced onto the ball and was virtually unimpeded as he bore down on Bruno Vale and the Apollon net. Luca Polizzi chased him down, forcing him to shoot from an angle, but with a stunning strike fired past Vale to give Stumbras a dramatic 1:0 win. It was a hard luck loss for Apollon, losing despite dominating the match, but they do have the benefit of a return leg at home to look forward to. 

Nonetheless, without an away goal, they will need to win by two or more goals. A 1:0 win would force extra time. Any draw or another loss would send them out of the competition.

 
By Andreas Mantzas
Image Source: SportFM Cyprus
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