AEK’s hopes of reaching the group stages of the Europa League hang in the balance after suffering a 0-1 defeat at home to Slovan Liberec on Thursday night.
Despite being a fairly even game at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Larnaca, a first half goal from Liberec’s Vladimir Coufal handed the visitors a narrow lead and an away goal in hand.
The home side almost got off to a dream start when, on the ten minute mark, Joan Tomas played Ivan Trickovski on goal, only for his effort to be denied by Martin Dubravka in the Czech side’s goal.
The next good chance fell to the away side, as Jan Sykora broke down the left hand side and struck powerfully towards the far post, forcing Mino into a good stop.
However, from the resulting corner, Coufal ghosted in behind the AEK defence to head home from close range and hand Liberec the lead and a precious away goal.
AEK almost found the perfect response at the perfect time. Just before the break, Andre Alves broke clear of the Liberec defence, but the Brazilian seemed to hesitate, making Dubravka able to deny him once, and then for a second time in quick succession.
Things almost got a lot worse for AEK on the stroke of half-time, as Egon Vuch was found alone in the penalty with a cross from the right, but the midfielder’s strike crashed off the woodwork to keep the Cypriots in the game.
In the second half, AEK came out looking far more purposeful than in the first, committing plenty of bodies in pursuit of a much-need leveler. Trickovski began to look far more effective in the final third, as did Juanma Ortiz down the right flank.
Yet, just as though they were looking to gain a foothold in the game, Ortiz received his marching orders on 65 minutes for two bookable offences, making AEK’s task of equalising far tougher.
Charalambides came on for Alves, with Trickovski moving to the centre of attack as AEK remained intent on not leaving empty handed.
Clear chances never arrived, though Larena rattled the crossbar with a long range effort with five minutes to go.
Just like the end of the first half, Liberec missed a good chance to double their lead at the end of the second, as Igor Sukennik’s side-footed effort hit the post.
The 0-1 scoreline, along with an away goal, makes AEK’s task very tough for next week’s second leg in the Czech Republic, though their heroics in Moscow against Spartak two weeks ago will serve as motivation that this tie is not necessarily over just yet.