AEK, Apollon and AEL booked their places into the third qualifying round of the Europa League on Thursday night, each winning their respective matches as they did in their first-leg matchups.
AEK held a 1-0 advantage over Cork City from the first leg through a Joan Truyols goal, and the Spaniard so nearly put the Larnaca side ahead within the first five minutes. AEK’s resulting corner was cleared up until the edge of the box and the Spaniard’s acrobatic effort led to a deflection which saw the ball loop towards the goal, only for Mark McNulty to tip over the crossbar.
The Irish side were not to be taken lightly, and they showed that the tie was very much on a knife edge midway through the first period. Some good wing play from Sean Maguire resulted in the forward setting up his strike partner Stephen Dooley, and his low strike grazed the far post on the turn.
The narrow aggregate scoreline meant that even AEK, with an advantage in hand, could not afford to rest on their laurels, as they too went all out for the win. Ivan Trickovski was the next AEK player to muster an effort on goal, with a left-footed strike sailing well wide of the far post.
It was then the visitors’ turn to have a speculative effort on goal, as midfielder Garry Buckley struck from distance but was well over Juan Pablo’s crossbar.
But on 33 minutes, the home side got the breakthrough they so greatly craved. Jorge Larena’s long-range strike was heading goalwards but Florian used his initiative to stoop low and glance the ball into the net, giving AEK a huge goal in the tie.
On 61 minutes, AEK nearly put the tie well and truly to bed. Though known for their short-passing style of play, it was almost 2-0 through the most direct of routes. Goalkeeper Juan Pablo knocked it long to Florian, who nodded the ball into space before striking from outside the area just wide of the post.
In the end, Florian’s goal in the first half was enough to secure the win on the night and book AEK’s place in the third qualifying round.
In the other game being played at the same time, Apollon had far more room for comfort following their 3-0 lead from the first game over FC Zaria. Nevertheless, the Limassol club showed eagerness to get another win on the board, as they dominated the first half. Their reward came on the stroke of the first 45 minutes, as Alex Da Silva put the tie beyond reasonable doubt from the penalty spot.
Not to go down without restoring some sort of pride, the Moldovan outfit responded rapidly in the second period, making it 1-1 through Maxim Focsa. The Cypriot side also left as victors in the end, as Andre Schembri scored his second in as many games ten minutes from time to give Apollon an easy passage into the next round.
Finally, AEL survived a late score against FC Progres Niedercorn. Kevin Pierre Lafrance scored a late winner to secure a 2-1 win (3-1 aggregate) for AEL, minutes after the Luxembourg side levelled things up on the night through Emmanuel Francoise to cancel out Fidelis Irhene’s opener.