Apoel struck three times in extra-time to secure a 4-0 win (4-1 aggregate) and a place in the Champions League playoff round, guaranteeing European group stage football for the seventh time in nine years.
The gamble of sacking manager Mario Been after last week’s 1-0 defeat in Romania paid off, as new coach Giorgos Donis galvanised his players to produce a priceless turnaround.
It was almost a nightmare start as Florinel Coman broke clear and hit the post from the edge of the box, but the hosts eventually settled. Apoel’s first chance of the game came on 28 minutes through Igor de Camargo, who got in front of his defender to prod goalwards, but he was denied by keeper Victor Rimniceanu.
It was said that there was little Donis could do in such a short space of time to have an impact on the team, but the breakthrough goal had his fingerprints all over it.
Stathis Aloneftis was shunned by Been in the three previous matches but it was his corner which was headed in for 1-0 by Carlao on 54 minutes. He was not fully fit, but the manager also took the gamble of starting him.
Apoel piled on the pressure in the second half and, though the Romanians held on for extra-time, there was no escape from there onwards for the visitors.
Giorgos Merkis, on as a sub for Carlao, lashed the ball home after a defensive mix-up for 2-0, moments before De Camargo headed in for 3-0. There was time for one more as Giorgos Efrem, another substitute, struck on the rebound to cap a special night for the Cyprus champions.
European group stage football is guaranteed for another season, as even defeat in the Champions League playoff round would see them slip into the Europa League.