APOEL’s chances of making the knockout phase of the Europa League were dealt a huge blow as they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Asteras Tripolis on Thursday.
A win was seen as a necessity going into the match two points behind Sparta Prague in second place but APOEL now sit bottom of the group with just two games remaining.
APOEL’s poor away form was well-documented ahead of the match having failed to win a single game in the group stages of European competition on the road in their previous 13 attempts and the run would continue after an uninspiring display in Greece.
Temur Ketsbaia was boosted by the fact that Marios Antoniades and Carlao passed late fitness tests before the match after previously being heavy doubts to make it in time for the clash. Mario Sergio went back into the lineup after a spell on the sidelines while Vander replaced the injured Giorgos Efrem on the wing. Suspended Tomas De Vincenti was replaced by a more defensive-minded player in Kostakis Artymatas in the centre of the park.
Despite being the leading goal scorer in Cyprus, Fernando Cavenaghi was left out of the lineup as he had been in two of the previous three Europa League group matches with Polish forward Mateusz Piatkowski preferred to lead the line.
In the meeting between the two in Nicosia a fortnight ago, Asteras’ Argentine playmaker Facundo Bertoglio wreaked havoc for the APOEL defence and the same player would cause similar problems on Thursday. APOEL got off to a nightmare start as a poor clearance from Antoniades fell to Bertoglia who smashed the ball into the roof of the net to make it 1-0.
From that point on, APOEL began to dominate proceedings and were almost level on 15 minutes when Semir Stilic’s strike hit the near post. The same player then had a strong penalty shout after he was barged off the ball by his opponent but was waved away by the referee.
As APOEL were asking all of the questions, Asteras dealt a killer blow to their chances as they doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time. An excellent dinked cross from Pablo Mazza found Apostolos Giannou at the back post who nodded the ball beyond Waterman, leaving Ketsbaia’s side with it all to do in the second period.
Cavenaghi was brought on at the break in attempt to inspire a rival. Ten minutes after the restart, a good move from APOEL ended with a shot on the turn from Artymatas but it sailed just over the bar.
The match was then suspended for around ten minutes as the visiting supporters threw flares onto the field of play. APOEL had been looking for a spark during the game but it simply would not come as they slumped to their seventh straight group stage defeat away from home.
Sparta’s 1-1 draw with Schalke means that APOEL will officially be out of the competition if the Czech side get a better result than them on Matchday 5, where the Cypriots face an unenviable visit to group leaders Schalke.