Memorable triumph for APOEL over Qarabag
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE - 3rd QUALIFYING ROUND (LEG 2)
APOEL completed a memorable comeback over Qarabag in Azerbaijan, recovering from a 2:1 deficit from the first leg to triumph 2:0 on the road and qualify for the UEFA Champions League playoffs.
APOEL travelled to Azerbaijan in an effort to turn around the 2:1 defeat in the first leg with Thomas Doll making his debut on the bench. Inside a hostile stadium, the Cypriot champions enjoyed a famous night, triumphing 2:0 to guarantee a place in either the Champions League or UEFA Europa League group stages. APOEL will take on Ajax in the next round after the Dutch giants dramatically defeated PAOK.
This success secured up to ten millions euros income, a much needed amount for the club.
Tomas De Vincenti scored a first-half penalty before Uros Matic grabbed the tie-winning marker in the latter stages.
Making a strong start, Qarabag had an early chance, as Mahir Emreli sent a bicycle kick inches wide in the 11th minute of play. Seven minutes later, Giorgos Merkis blocked a shot from Abdellah Zoubir, with Simeon Slavchev’s rebound effort dropping wide.
APOEL steadily pushed forward to find the much needed goal. In the 25th minute, Nikolas Ioannou found Roman Bezjak, but Vagner Da Silva was ready for the ensuing shot. Eight minutes later, De Vincenti lost the ball on the edge of Qarabag’s penalty area, Ioannou immediately reclaimed it and dribbled between four defenders and was brought down by Rashad Sadygov. The referee pointed to the spot, Tomas De Vincenti took the penalty kick and beat Vagner for the 1:0.
On the brink of half time, Qarabag almost scored an equaliser, but Belec came up with an incredible save to deny Zoubir from point blank range.
APOEL came back into the game with a big chance from De Vincenti just two minutes after the restart. The Argentinian received the ball from Matich and released a rocket from distance, but Vagner got something on the attempt and it then glanced the crossbar.
Qarabag picked up the pace to find the equalizer and had a big double chance in the 51st minute. Jaime Romero sent a cross in from the right flank, Ailton Ferreira took aim, and APOEL just about cleared their lines.
The hosts kept pressing and Richard Almeida smacked the right post.
After holding off Qarabag, APOEL struck the winner in the 68th minute. On the edge of the area, Matic took aim, lashing the ball into the net with an unstoppable strike.
During stoppage time, substitute Lucas Souza won a foul from Almeida who saw a second yellow card, leaving his team with 10 men in the game’s dying moments. APOEL held their lead and at the end celebrated a great win.
MVP: Nicholas Ioannou and Vid Belec share that title, while the whole team gave their best. Ioannou both stopped and started attacks, dribbling with a winger’s ease to win the penalty which brought APOEL’s first goal. Belec came up with big saves to stop Qarabag from getting into the game. The Slovenian keeper is quickly becoming APOEL’s guardian angel.
The coach: Thomas Doll had just five days to get his team ready for a game of such importance after the home defeat against Qarabag. The experienced German did not follow his predecessor’s 3-5-2 system, setting his team with four defenders. Doll also gave a chance to Roman Bezjak, who was forgotten by Paolo Tramezzani. Doll with simple moves got the best out of his players, with the administration’s move to fire Tramezzani and hire him proving to be the correct one.
Qarabag (Gurban Gurbanov): Vagner Da Silva (GK), Ailton Ferreira (Araz Abdullayev), Rahil Mammadov, Maksim Mammadov, Simeon Slavchev (Dani Quintana), Michel Madera, Jaime Romero, Mahir Emreli, Rashad Sadygov (C) , Abdellah Zoubir (Magaye Gueye), Richard Almeida
APOEL (Thomas Doll): Vid Belec (GK), Giorgos Merkis, Nicholas Ioannou, Kevin Lafrance, Dragan Mihajlovic, Savvas Gentsoglou, Uros Matic, Tomás De Vincenti (C) (Linus Hallenius), Musa Al-Taamari, Roman Bezjak (Antonio Jakolis), Andrija Pavlovic (Lucas Souza)
HIGHLIGHTS: QARABAG - APOEL