Apoel came from behind to earn a 2-1 win in their Europa League group stage opener against Astana in a dominant performance from the Cypriot champions at the GSP Stadium.
It looked as though Nemanja Maksimovic, who ended Apoel’s Champions League dream last year in the playoff round, would be their nemesis once again after he scored just before the break.
However, second-half goals from Vinicius and Igor de Camargo sealed a precious three points for Thomas Christiansen’s side in Group B.
Christiansen made one change to the lineup that drew with Copenhagen in the Champions League playoff, bringing in Spanish full-back Roberto Lago in place of Nektarios Alexandrou.
Apoel started on the front foot, Sotiriou leapt well to meet Milanov’s deep cross but the striker’s header went a few yards wide.
On 17 minutes, Sotiriou strode forward, taking on two defenders in the process. His misplaced pass fell to Gianniotas on the edge of the box who fired towards goal with his left foot, which was deflected and then tipped wide by Nenad Eric.
A minute later, the keeper’s attempted clearance fell to Efrem in the box but his effort was saved, before Lago pulled his shot wide from outside the box.
Apoel were playing some beautiful stuff, dominating possession and limiting their opponents to a couple of unsuccessful counter-attacks.
But as is so often the case in European football, failure to score while you are ahead is usually punished, which Apoel were about to realise.
In first-half injury time, an inswinging Astana free-kick was not properly cleared, and as it dropped at the edge of the box, it was met on the half volley by Maksimovic which then deflected off an Apoel Astiz defender and beyond Boy Waterman for a goal hugely against the run of play.
At the start of the second period, Apoel struggled to get into the same rhythm as they had in the first, seemingly damaged by that sucker punch at the end of the first half.
Christiansen brought on new signing Facundo Bertoglio just before the hour mark in an attempt to add some spark to Apoel, and it seemed to work.
Some nice work from Bertoglio found Efrem on the left who in turn beat his man and picked out a decent cross for Gianniotas but the 23-year-old could not generate any significant power with the header.
A minute later, another chance went begging as Gianniotas’ low strike failed to threaten Eric after a mini scramble in the box.
It was a long time coming, but finally Apoel were level on 74 minutes. De Camargo’s header hit an Astana defender which fell kindly into the path of Vinicius who blasted the ball into the net from close range. It may have fallen fortuitously to the Brazilian, but the leveller was fully deserved.
Apoel laid siege to Astana’s goal but just when it looked as though they were running out of steam, a cross from Lago picked out De Camargo, whose header squirmed under Eric to send the GSP into raptures.
With just three minutes to spare, Astana had nothing left in the tank and Apoel held on for a precious three points and exacted revenge for the 1-1 draw last year which knocked them out of the Champions League playoff.
In the group’s other game, Olympiacos defeated Young Boys 1-0 away from home and Apoel’s next European game is a visit to the Greek giants on 29 September.
Results from the other games in the Europa League on Thursday:
Zorya Luhansk 1 – Fenerbahce 1
Young Boys 0 – Olympiacos 1
Mainz 1 – St Etienne 1
Anderlecht 3 – Dundalk 1
Maccabi Tel-Aviv 3 – Zenit 4
Astra Giurgiu 2 – Austria Vienna 3
Viktoria Plzen 1 – Roma 1
Sassuolo 3 – Athletic Bilbao 0
Rapid Vienna 3 – KRC Genk 2
Panathinaikos 1 – Ajax 2
Standard Liege 1 – Celta Vigo 1
Konyaspor 0 – Shakhtar Donetsk 1
Sporting Braga 1 – KAA Gent 1
Red Bull Salzburg 0 – FK Krasnodar 1
Nice 0 – Schalke 1
FK Qarabag 2 – Slovan Liberec 2
PAOK Salonika 0 – Fiorentina 0
Inter Milan 0 – Hap. Be’er Sheva 2
Southampton 3 – Sparta Prague 0
Osmanlispor 2 – Steaua Bucharest 0
Villarreal 2 – FC Zurich 1