APOEL are through to the third round of Champions League qualifying after a 3-0 win over The New Saints on Tuesday night at the GSP Stadium.
The Cyprus champions, after failing to break the deadlock in the first leg in Wales last week, needed a win at all costs to book their place in the next round, and a sizeable crowd turned up to roar their side to victory in the Nicosia heat.
Despite their wealth of experience in the tournament, and superior individual quality, there was an element of anxiety in the atmosphere due to the club’s recent home record on the continent as APOEL had won just one of their previous nine European encounters on the island.
APOEL started on the front foot, while The New Saints looked intent on sitting back. Tomas De Vincenti engineered the first decent chance of the match, as his cross found Vinicius but the Brazilian headed well off target.
The home side came mightily close on 40 minutes when Vander connected with a sweeping diagonal ball from Astiz but the winger’s cross-shot found the corner of the woodwork. And then, on the stroke of half-time, Pieros Sotiriou rose highest to head the ball beyond the Saints keeper, only for his effort to be cleared off the line heroically by defender Phil Baker.
The complexion of the game hardly changed in the second half, as the APOEL onslaught continued. Just when it was beginning to look as though it was not going to be APOEL’s night, a tame clearance from the Welsh defence bounced into the path of Nektarios Alexandrou at the edge of the box.
The full-back struck firmly and, with the aid of a deflection, the ball crept beyond the keeper into the corner to finally break the deadlock.
On the hour-mark, the game should have been put to bed. De Vincenti threaded the ball through to Sotiriou, who then skillfully turned his man to leave himself one-on-one with the keeper, but the Cypriot international could only find the far post.
However, the 23-year-old made amends after 73 minutes, controlling Alexandrou’s drilled cross before lashing the ball into the net, albeit via a ricochet.
There was still time to add icing to the cake, as De Vincenti was mowed down in the box in the very last minute of added time. The Argentine dusted himself down before leathering his penalty down the middle of the goal.
It was not a vintage performance from APOEL who still look far from their best, but the result was the main priority on a night they simply had to win.
APOEL will face either IFK Norrkoeping or Rosenborg in the third round next week. The Scandinavian duo play their second leg match on Wednesday night, with the latter leading 3-1 from the first leg.