Football

Wild celebrations as APOEL Nicosia beat Lyon to reach the Champions League Quarter-Finals

Michel Bastos left the centre circle, beginning the lonely walk – some 40 yards from the half way line to the penalty spot. He picked up the ball and placed it back down. Whilst backpedalling, he took several deep breaths. He knew if he missed this, and Lyon’s fifth, penalty in the shoot-out, it would be over for the Frenchmen. He confidently galloped towards the ball and placed it to Dionissis Chiotis’s left. The APOEL goalkeeper guessed correctly, keeping out the spot kick and in the process sent an island with a population of 800,000 wild.

APOEL have made it to the last eight of the Champions League. Nobody gave them a hope of reaching this far, back when the qualifying rounds started in July. Similarly, nobody outside of Cyprus expects them to progress further but no matter. Just by reaching the quarter-finals alone, the Club’s cash pile can expect to increase by around 30m Euros. In the current European football climate where there is great emphasis on Financial Fair Play, APOEL have spent nowhere near the amount that just registered in the cash till. This is a significant period in, both, the Club’s history and future.

Last night was the biggest footballing moment in Cypriot history. Knowing that only a win would give them a chance, Gustavo Manduca put the Nicosia side 1-0 up after nine minutes, finishing off good work from skipper Constantinos Charalambides. From there on, it was a game of chess. Remi Garde, the Lyon coach, will come under heavy scrutiny for their second leg performance as Lyon’s game plan was ambiguous. They defended in large numbers but even when they attacked, they did not commit too many numbers forward, which was surprising considering that one away goal would have effectively finished the tie in their favour.

It became a game of cat and mouse. APOEL went close on the counter attack on a number of occasions with their Brazilian forward Ailton getting into good positions but he consistently let himself down by going alone, and often losing the ball, rather than passing to an unmarked team-mate. Lyon on the other hand, looked threatening at set pieces. As the game moved into extra time, everyone became nervous and the game became riddled with errors. Scorer Menduca received his marching orders after a clumsy yellow card to add to his earlier yellow for over-celebrating his goal by taking his shirt off.

Going one man down made no difference as all of the APOEL penalty takers held their nerve. At 3-3, the goal scorer from the first leg, Alexandre Lacazette, saw his spot kick saved, whilst Trickovski put the Cypriots 4-3 up. Then came Bastos’ moment which he will want to forget.

APOEL have now lost only once at home in their last ten European matches. They now have the honour of representing Cyprus in the last eight of Europe’s Premier Club Competition, rubbing shoulders with the likes of European giants Barcelona, AC Milan and Benfica.

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