Cyprus Mail
Champions League Sport

APOEL’s European dream over

It's over: Cyprus champions APOEL are out of European competition

By Andreas Vou

APOEL were sent crashing out of European competition at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night after falling to a 4-0 defeat against Ajax.

The Cyprus champions needed to win in order to leapfrog Ajax who occupied third place in the group which guarantees a place to the next round of the Europa League.

Giorgos Donis made three changes to the team which lost 0-4 against FC Barcelona in Cyprus two weeks ago. The manager ditched his familiar 4-4-1-1 formation in favour of an additional centre-back in Anastasios Papazoglou for Gustavo Manduca. Nektarios Alexandrou came in for the suspended Guilherme as Marios Antoniades tucked in as a third centre-back and Giorgos Efrem replaced Stathis Aloneftis.

In the opening 20 minutes, there was clearly a more purposeful look about the APOEL players knowing that they would have to take the game to their opponents in contrast to previous European encounters but, as has been the case this campaign, their inexistent threat up front would prevent any surprises.

On 19 minutes came APOEL’s best opportunity of the first-half via a quick breakaway – Nuno Morais had options either side in a three-on-two situation but his pass was slightly too heavy for Efrem who could only earn a corner.

Ajax then came close just minutes later. Ricardo Kishna easily skipped past Mario Sergio on the left wing and his excellent cross found an unmarked Arkadiusz Milik from six yards out who stooped low to head towards goal but was denied by a good stop from Urko Pardo.

APOEL’s gameplan looked to be working as the match edged towards the break but on the stroke of half-time would come the defining point. Positive play from Lasse Schoene with some good fortune along the way saw him break free of the APOEL defence out on the left hand side. Milik received Schoene’s pass to feet, turning away from Antoniades who made minimal contact with the striker inside the box and a penalty was awarded.

Schoene placed the ball low and hard to the keeper’s right and although Pardo guessed the right way, the ball went millimiteres wide of his extended right hand and into the corner, giving APOEL an uphill task for the second half.

APOEL had only scored one goal in the group stages and would need at least two to reverse proceedings. Any hopes were put to bed by a quick-fire double at the start of the second half from the home side.

Schoene and Milik would be the architects of Ajax’s second goal. After seeing his initial effort saved, Milik maintained his composure on the rebound, laying the ball off to Schoene who had the simple task of tucking away the finish.

Three minutes later, it was 3-0. Kishna caused problems all night and the 19-year-old’s excellent cross after taking on three APOEL players found Davy Klaassen at the far post who headed firmly beyond the keeper.

From then on it was a matter of how many as Ajax continued to toy with their wounded opponents. APOEL are famed for their discipline but it had all gone out of the window after Ajax’s three goals in eight minutes.

Frank de Boer’s side defeated Willem II 5-0 on the weekend and they could have surpassed that scoreline with the chances they had.

With 16 minutes to go, Ajax made it four goals without reply. Milik eventually grabbed his goal after Klassen played a neat through pass beyond a tired APOEL defence and the Polish striker cleverly sent the keeper the wrong way with a disguised near-post finish.

APOEL wave goodbye to Europe and will now be focusing on maintaining their lead at the top of the Cyprus championship in order to make an instant return to Europe’s elite competition next season.

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