AEK fought back to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Spartak Moscow while Apollon were sunk by an injury-time goal away to Grasshopper (2-1) in the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round.
Up against one of the toughest opponents of the round, AEK knew they would be tested to the limit at the Antonis Papadopoulos stadium.
The visitors started brightly, with the first good effort on goal coming from Ivelin Popov, whose shot from distance forced AEK keeper Ruben Mino into a decent save.
At the 21 minute mark came the game’s first clear-cut chance, as Spartak’s Roman Zobnin peeled away from his man from a corner and volleyed inches over the bar.
Soon enough, however, the Russians took a deserved lead. Jano Ananidze dribbled his way past a handful of AEK defenders before unleashing a fine shot beyond Mino for 0-1, and a vital away goal to boot.
Spartak should have had a second on the stroke of half-time but were grateful to see Quincy Promes fail to hit the target with just the keeper to beat.
AEK came out far more purposefully in the second half. Their first real chance came on 50 minutes when Ortiz’s cross found Tete but the Spaniard did not make solid enough connection with the ball.
The equaliser eventually did come for the home side on 65 minutes when some fine work on the left wing from Tete more than made up for his earlier miss as he set up Andre Alves who headed in for 1-1.
AEK pushed on for a second but eventually had to settle for the draw which means they now have a tough challenge waiting for them in Moscow.
Apollon opened their Europa League campaign away to Grasshopper in Switzerland. The Limassol side should have taken the lead after four minutes when a wonderfully whipped in cross from the right picked out Angelis Angeli just outside the six yard box but the centre-back skied the ball well over the bar.
Moments later, another golden chance was spurned by the Cypriots. Abraham Gneki Guie was brought down in the penalty area but Alex Da Silva skewed his effort horribly wide from the spot.
Apollon were made to pay for their missed chances as the hosts took the lead on 11 minutes through Haris Tabakovic who was afforded far too much space in the box before dispatching on goal.
The game began to open up in the second half, as Apollon went in search of the leveler that would drastically change the complexion of the tie.
And on 76 minutes, the Limassol side finally got the goal they deserved as Guie, who had proved a menace all night, powerfully headed in from a corner for 1-1.
Just as it looked as though Apollon were to come away with a positive result, a lapse of concentration allowed Numa Lavanchy to ghost into the box and tap in Ridge Munsy’s cross for a 2-1 Grasshopper win.
AEK will have plenty to do in Russia but can take heart from the character they showed, while Apollon will still feel they are capable of reversing the tie in next Thursday’s return leg.
All results from the UEFA Europa League Qualifying Round 3 first leg matches on Thursday
Qualifying Round 3
Thursday, July 28, first leg
FC Admira Wacker Moedling (Austria) – Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic) 1-2 (halftime: 1-1)
St Etienne (France) – AEK (Greece) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Aberdeen (Scotland) – Maribor (Slovenia) 1-1 (halftime: 0-0)
AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) – PAS Giannina (Greece) 1-0 (halftime: 1-0)
Domzale (Slovenia) – West Ham United (England) 2-1 (halftime: 1-1)
Gent (Belgium) – FC Viitorul Constanta (Romania) 5-0 (halftime: 2-0)
Videoton FC (Hungary) – Midtjylland (Denmark) 0-1 (halftime: 0-0)
Hertha Berlin (Germany) – Brondby (Denmark) 1-0 (halftime: 1-0)
KF Shkendija (FYR Macedonia) – Mlada Boleslav (Czech Republic) 2-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Osmanlispor (Turkey) – Kalju Nomme (Estonia) 1-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Panathinaikos (Greece) – AIK Stockholm (Sweden) 1-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Pandurii Targu-Jiu (Romania) – Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) 1-3 (halftime: 1-1)
Racing Genk (Belgium) – Cork City (Ireland) 1-0 (halftime: 1-0)
Vojvodina Novi Sad (Serbia) – Dinamo Minsk (Belarus) 1-1 (halftime: 1-0)
Luzern (Switzerland) – Sassuolo (Italy) 1-1 (halftime: 1-1)
Grasshoppers Zurich (Switzerland) – Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) 2-1 (halftime: 1-0)
Birkirkara (Malta) – FC Krasnodar (Russia) 0-3 (halftime: 0-1)
Istanbul Basaksehir (Turkey) – Rijeka (Croatia) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Austria Vienna (Austria) – Spartak Trnava (Slovakia) 0-1 (halftime: 0-0)
FK Jelgava (Latvia) – Beitar Jerusalem (Israel) 1-1 (halftime: 0-1)
IFK Gothenburg (Sweden) – HJK Helsinki (Finland) 1-2 (halftime: 0-0)
Lille (France) – FK Qabala (Azerbaijan) 1-1 (halftime: 0-1)
Lokomotiva Zagreb (Croatia) – Vorskla Poltava (Ukraine) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Slavia Prague (Czech Republic) – Rio Ave (Portugal) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino (Belarus) – Rapid Vienna (Austria) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Zaglebie Lubin (Poland) – SonderjyskE (Denmark) 1-2 (halftime: 1-2)
Heracles Almelo (Netherlands) – FC Arouca (Portugal) 1-1 (halftime: 0-0)
FK Oleksandriya (Ukraine) – Hajduk Split (Croatia) 0-3 (halftime: 0-0)
AEK Larnaca (Cyprus) – Spartak Moscow (Russia) 1-1 (halftime: 0-1)