By Nemanja Bjedov
Neither Apollon nor APOEL were resting on their laurels a day after securing promising results in their Europa League play-off openers.
On Thursday night Apollon caused shock by recording a 2-0 victory over French side OGC Nice in Nicosia, while Paulo Sergio’s APOEL battled out a 1-1 draw against SV Zulte-Waregem in Brussels.
“This is only the first half of the match. Nothing is finished yet,” assessed Apollon coach Christakis Christoforou, whose team hit two without reply, summer returnee Gaston Sangoy scoring both goals.
“We could have scored another goal or two, but unfortunately we did not. What we have to do is stay serious and disciplined when we play the second leg in Nice, and hope this will be enough for us to advance into the group stage,” said Christoforou.
Apollon captain Giorgos Merkis echoed Christoforou’s caution, urging his teammates to remember what happened to Anorthosis when they met Swedish side Gefle earlier in the competition: “We must travel to France with Anorthosis’ case in our minds.
“They won 3-0 at home and then lost 4-0 away. This has to be a warning to us and we must take the return leg as seriously as possible. I hope we have no selection problems for that match and I want to congratulate everyone in my team on the job well done.
“Our fans were great. We basically play two matches away from home, but with them on our side it looked like GSP is our home ground and I’m sure that if we played in Limassol, their support would be even greater,” Merkis added.
For his part, Nice coach Claude Puel conceded that: “Apollon deserved to win tonight”.
“We played really badly,” he went on, “but we have no choice but to bounce back as quickly as possible.
“It will be very difficult to achieve progress into the group stage after this result away from home, but I believe it is not impossible – as long as we play our game the way we know.”
Meanwhile, the reigning Cypriot champions could not count on influential midfielder Gustavo Manduca for the match against Zulte-Waregem, but they managed to get a result that guarantees an interesting second leg in Nicosia next Thursday.
“A draw with goals away from home is not a bad result,” said APOEL’s coach Paulo Sergio. “However, we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us to secure advancement in Nicosia.
“We played well enough, but there were mistakes for which we have a week to work on and correct. We have to be very serious in order to achieve our goal, which is the Europa League group stage,” said Sergio.