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Champions LeagueSport

APOEL take step towards Champions League playoffs with Denmark win

By Andreas Vou

APOEL earned an important 1-2 win away to FC Midtjylland in the first leg of the Champions League third-round on Tuesday, though a late strike from the Danes keeps the tie alive after it looked to be over.

After their unconvincing performances in the previous round against FK Vardar, it was evident from their first-half display that APOEL were keen to silence some of their critics as well as a set a positive marker ahead of next week’s second leg.

Nektarios Alexandrou stood in for the injured Marios Antoniades and it was the long-serving Cypriot who caused the game’s first major talking point as, on 17 minutes, a clumsy challenge provoked strong appeals for a penalty from the hosts.

It took almost half an hour to see the game’s first shot on target as Midtjylland’s Jakob Poulsen’s left-footed drive warmed the gloves of Boy Waterman. Then, less than a minute later, APOEL quickly countered; Mario Sergio’s pass down the line found Luis Leal who played the ball across the face of the goal for Tomas De Vincenti to tap it in for the opener and a crucial away goal.

The ball may have gone in via the help of a Midtjylland defender but if there was any doubt as to whose goal the first was, there would be no doubt about the second which came just two minutes later. A careless cross-field pass was intercepted by De Vincenti who then fired home from outside the box to give APOEL a big lead.

That lead was only preserved going into the break thanks to Waterman who denied the Danes a route back into the game with an excellent double save.

The two-goal cushion had seemingly given the Cypriot champions the impression that the game was over, as a relaxed second-half display invited a prolonged spell of pressure from Midtjylland who forced a series of chances.

A half chance for Martin Pusic with a close range header which sailed over the bar was an early warning sign for APOEL. Then came another good opportunity for the Danish side moments later when a corner to the far post caused all sorts of confusion and panic in the APOEL defence before De Vincenti eventually cleared.

Try as they might, Midtjylland simply could not break down a stubborn, and at times fortunate, APOEL back line. First, Kristoffer Olsson blazed over from less than ten yards before Pione Sisto had an effort blocked on the line by Mario Sergio.

APOEL had the chance to put the nail in Midtjylland’s coffin late on but Leal, rather than square the ball to the unmarked Pieros Sotiriou, decided to take the shot on himself and fired wide.

Leal’s poor decision would prove costly as Midtjylland at last got the goal that their efforts deserved with two minutes to go, as Poulsen cleverly curled the ball past Waterman from the edge of the box.

Still, the Cypriots bring an important lead back to the island ahead of next Tuesday’s return fixture where a pulsating crowd will be awaiting to push their side through to the Champions League playoffs.

In other third qualifying round first leg matches on Tuesday night the scores were:
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) – Molde (Norway) 1-1 (halftime: 1-1)
Videoton FC (Hungary) – BATE Borisov (Belarus) 1-1 (halftime: 0-0)
Young Boys (Switzerland) – Monaco (France) 1-3 (halftime: 0-0)
Fenerbahce (Turkey) – Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Panathinaikos (Greece) – Club Bruges (Belgium) 2-1 (halftime: 1-1)
Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) – Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 1-2 (halftime: 0-2)
Midtjylland (Denmark) – APOEL Nicosia (Cyprus) 1-2 (halftime: 0-2)
Milsami Orhei (Moldova) – Skenderbeu (Albania) 0-2 (halftime: 0-0)
CSKA Moscow (Russia) – Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) 2-2 (halftime: 1-1)

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