APOEL booked their place in the third round of Champions League qualifying with a 1-0 win (2-0 aggregate) at F91 Dudelange on Wednesday night.
The Cypriot champions looked far fresher than they did in the first leg and, after creating several good chances, a penalty from Igor De Camargo late in the first half was enough for Apoel on the night. Mario Been’s side now face Romanian champions FC Viitorul Constanța in the third round.
Apoel were firm favourites going into the game, but at such an early stage of the season, with so many players yet to reach anywhere near full match fitness, there was always room for a potential upset. And they so nearly went a goal behind in the first 15 minutes when Dudelange striker Omar Er Rafik found himself with a chance on goal, but his shot was saved by Boy Waterman.
The man who got the vital winner in the first leg so nearly got the opener in the second. On 20 minutes, Facundo Bertoglio unleashed a powerful strike from well outside the box and beat the keeper, but was cruelly denied by the post.
Not long after, Apoel were in again, and this time the chance should have been taken. Tommy Oar curled in a peach of a cross to Igor de Camargo, but the striker headed straight at the keeper.
Yet that miss was to be forgotten and forgiven six minutes before the break. Oar struck powerfully towards goal which was saved by the keeper, but as the winger attempted to follow in on the rebound, he had been brought down in the defender’s attempt to block the initial shot. Though it looked slightly harsh on second viewing, the referee pointed to the spot.
De Camargo stepped up and placed the ball accurately beyond the reach of Jonathan Joubert for a big away goal that left the hosts needing at least three goals to overturn the tie.
The second half almost began as the first ended as De Camargo was played through on goal, but was denied his brace by Joubert.
Though the tie was realistically out of the Luxembourg side’s reach going into the last half hour, they refused to throw in the towel and came close to narrowing the 2-0 aggregate deficit. A slack touch from Giorgos Merkis allowed Bertino Barbosa in, who had a strike on target but was comfortably saved by Waterman.
The Dutch keeper was again called into action deep in injury time, as substitute Sinani hit a stinging drive which was headed for the net. Waterman stooped low to deny the effort as Apoel held on to secure the same scoreline as the first leg.
Though a win over a side from Luxembourg may not produce wild celebrations in the streets of Nicosia, it is however a significant one seeing as Apoel have notoriously struggled away from home in the competition. The win on Wednesday was just their fifth on the road in Europe’s top competition this century.
Apoel will now face Romania’s Viitorul in the third round, the penultimate round before the promised land of the group stages. The Romanian champions will be playing their first European game of the season, and the first leg will take place next week.