Cyprus Mail
Football Sport

APOEL earn crucial away draw, despite being second best

Franco Vinicius scores the equaliser for APOEL (Photo: Savvides)

By Andreas Vou

DESPITE being second best for most of the game, APOEL scored a crucial away goal in a 1-1 draw against Aalborg in the first leg of the Champions League play-off on Wednesday night, giving them a slight advantage going into next week’s return game in Nicosia.

The Danish outfit can feel aggrieved for not coming away with a comfortable win having made many more chances than the Cypriot champions but failure to bury their opportunities cost them dearly.

A 16th minute strike from Nicolaj Thomsen gave Aalborg a well-merited lead but Brazilian midfielder Franco Vinicius handed APOEL an equaliser as well as an away goal which could prove decisive early into the second half.

Even though APOEL lie on the brink of their third progression to the Champions League groups in six seasons, just four players from their starting eleven had previously played in a Champions League encounter and the inexperience was evident in the first half.

APOEL set up very defensively with two banks of four standing in front of goalkeeper Urko Pardo, while Tomas de Vincenti roamed in behind Cillian Sheridan in attack.

There was only team in it in the first half as Patrick Kristensen wreaked havoc down the right side of the field. The early warning signs were not picked up by APOEL and they were soon made to pay.

After some nice approach play from Nicklas Helenius on the edge of the APOEL  box, Kristensen picked out Nicolaj Thomsen with a low cross who struck first time from the edge of the box beyond the reach of Pardo to give the Danes the lead.

Aalborg players were continuously allowed to take shots at will as the APOEL players opted to stand off their opponents and it looked like a matter of time before the home side would double their lead.

However, a quick break away just before the break saw Nuno Morais played through on goal, but the Portuguese midfielder was eventually caught up and had his shot blocked.

In the second half, coach Donis switched Tiago Gomes to the right-hand side of midfield and Constantinos Charalambides to the left to provide more defensive cover to cope with the threat of Kristensen.

On 54 minutes, Gomes swiveled on the corner of the box before feeding Vinicius who made a bursting run from midfield into the penalty box before lashing the ball beyond Nicolai Larsen to hand APOEL a key away goal.

Prior to the equaliser, Aalborg had ten shots on goal compared to a solitary APOEL effort – the leveller took the sting out of Aalborg’s game and the tempo of the game slowed.

Kasper Risgard saw a penalty claim turned down on 64 not long before Vinicius came agonisingly close to a second for APOEL but the game would remain 1-1 with the visitors going home the happiest.

The job is half done for APOEL who need little reminding that Aalborg are more than capable away from home after the Danes reversed a 0-1 deficit against Dinamo Zagreb to win 0-2 in Croatia to reach this stage.

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