Following their historic victory on Thursday over Athletic Bilbao, Apoel have been drawn against Anderlecht in the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League.
The Cypriot champions caused a major upset in the previous round against the Basque giants with a 4-3 aggregate win, and will now fancy their chances of reaching the quarter finals when they take on the famous Belgian club.
Anderlecht sealed their progression in the most dramatic of fashion. It looked as though they were heading for an exit after Zenit St. Petersburg overturned their 2-0 first-leg advantage, but a 90th minute strike saw them squeeze through on away goals (3-3 aggregate).
The last Belgian side Apoel faced was Zulte-Waregem in the qualifying rounds of the 2013/14 edition of the competition, where the Cypriots suffered a surprise elimination (2-3 aggregate) only to be reinstated following Turkish club Fenerbahce’s exclusion over match-fixing allegations.
“Just as we were the outsiders to finish first in the group stages, we again managed to surprise everyone with our commitment to reach the next round,” defender Giorgos Merkis told Kerkida after their win over Athletic on Thursday.
Athletic boss Ernesto Valverde, through gritted teeth, praised Apoel’s spirit as well as forward Pieros Sotiriou, who scored the opener on the night: “They have a special striker up front and they are the most efficient team I have ever seen in my life,” he said
President Nicos Anastasiades was in attendance at the GSP Stadium, stating before the game that “every time I have come (to the GSP) Apoel have won.”
Tweeting after the 2-0 victory, he wrote: “Congratulations to Apoel for their historic qualification. Good luck in the last 16”.
The first leg of the last 16 will take place in Nicosia on March 9, before the return leg at the Stade Constant Vanden Stock one week later on March 16.
The draw in full:
Celta Vigo (Spain) v FC Krasnodar (Russia)
Apoel FC (Cyprus) v Anderlecht (Belgium)
Schalke (Germany) v Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)
Olympique Lyon (France) v Roma (Italy)
Rostov (Russia) v Manchester United (England)
Olympiacos (Greece) v Besiktas (Turkey)
Gent (Belgium) v Genk (Belgium)
FC Copenhagen (Denmark) v Ajax (Netherlands)
First legs to be played on March 9, second legs March 16