By Nemanja Bjedov
APOEL were licking their wounds on Wednesday following their elimination from Champions League qualifying by Maribor, who advanced to the playoff round on the away goals rule following a 0-0 draw in Slovenia on Tuesday night.
“I feel like we were robbed. We did almost everything we could and still could not score a goal.” said APOEL captain Nektarios Alexandrou.
“I do not want to relive the things that I have experienced in these two matches and I do not know if I will be able to sleep for a few days,” he added.“
I think that the officials should be suspended for a long period,” Alexandrou said, referring to a strong penalty appeal that was waved away in the dying moments of the first leg in Nicosia, which finished 1-1.
The Cyprus champions still feel bitter after Croatian forward Mario Budimir was booked for diving in the incident.
“This is one of my worst European experiences. We have failed to achieve our goal which was the most important one for us this season. I do not like to lose and say that I have tried. We showed our superiority over them in both matches, however we now have to focus and win our playoff so we can reach the group stage of the Europa League,” said Alexandrou.
“This means less money for our club, but we never play only for money in the first place,” he concluded.
APOEL’s substitute goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis also lashed out at the officials: “We had five penalties that were not given to us in these two matches. We looked much better than them on the pitch and I cannot believe that this team qualified instead of us. The referees were acting under instructions, there is no other explanation,” he said.
After everything we have witnessed in this tie, I believe that UEFA is not as fair play oriented as they claim to be,” he added.
The Nicosia giants surged forward in the second half, yet despite going close through Gustavo Manduca and Esmael Goncalves, who was later dismissed with a straight red card for a challenge on Ales Mertelj, APOEL were unable to find the goal that would have settled the third qualifying round tie in their favour.
“This is a great result for Slovenian football. We had a very strong opponent, but we managed to remain undefeated. We were afraid of making a mistake and approaching the return leg in the wrong way, but we knew that we needed to protect the result from Nicosia,” said jubilant Maribor coach Ante Cacic.
“I needed to be focused and had to make sure that my players stayed calm throughout the seven minutes of injury time and luckily we had what it takes. We are now only 180 minutes away from the Champions League group stage,” he added.
The draws for both the Champions League and Europa League playoff stage will be held on Friday at the House of European Football in Nyon, Switzerland starting at 12.45pm and 2pm respectively.
By Nemanja Bjedov