Apoel earned their first ever continental away win beyond the qualifying rounds with a shock 0-1 victory over Olympiacos in Piraeus on Thursday night to go top of Europa League Group B.
In a pulsating game, Apoel heroically defended a bombardment of attempts from the Greek side after Pieros Sotiriou’s tenth minute header to make it two wins from two in the competition.
Apoel were given an early sign of things to come in the sixth minute when Seba burst through their defence and forcing Boy Waterman into a decent save.
But after a fairly uneventful opening ten minutes, a nice one-two between Zhivko Milanov and Giannis Gianniotas was followed by a delicious ball into the box which was met by Pieros Sotiriou to head the Cypriots into a surprise lead.
On 17 minutes, Olympiacos thought they had found the perfect response when Brown Ideye cut inside Carlao before finishing well, but a very late flag from the linesman ruled out the goal. It was a hugely tight call from the official, with the former West Bromwich Albion striker leaning offside at most.
Two minutes later, Diogo Figueiras zipped in an immaculate diagonal ball towards Alberto de la Bella at the back post but the Spaniard’s header was brilliantly saved by Waterman. And from the resulting corner Kostas Fortounis hit the woodwork.
The siege to Apoel’s goal continued. Fortounis was having a fine game, but fortune was not on his side. The Greek playmaker thought he had done enough to divert Ideye’s cutback only to see his goalward strike cleared by Carlao with Waterman stranded.
Marko Marin, who boosted Olympiacos before kick-off after being announced fit to play, was the latest to go close for the hosts on 35 minutes when his long range drive whistled just wide of the post.
By that time, Apoel were praying for half-time to come early. But if they thought they had survived the worst of Olympiacos’ pressure in the first half, they were given an early indication at the start of the second that was plenty of work still to be done when Seba’s inswinging cross almost crept in, only for the post to keep Apoel ahead.
That said, on 54 minutes, Apoel should have doubled their lead albeit against the run of play via the same method as they got the first. Milanov’s pinpoint cross found Sotiriou unmarked but, this time, failed to make clean connection with the header.
After that chance however, it was back to some dogged defending at the other end. Following Carlao’s heroic clearance in the first half, it was his defensive partner Giorgos Merkis’ turn to save the day, as the Cypriot somehow managed to get back on the line to head Ideye’s header onto the crossbar and out for a corner.
Entering the last ten minutes, Tarik Elyounoussi connected sweetly on the volley from a ball over the top but the outstretched leg of Waterman again denied the substitute. Olympiacos’ efforts turned desperate with the clock ticking but Apoel held on to record their first European win at the 15th attempt.
Although at an early stage, Apoel’s win now provides genuine hope of reaching the next round as they sit pretty in top spot, three points clear of second-placed Olympiacos and five clear of both Astana and Young Boys after their 0-0 draw.
Apoel’s next Europa League game is another away challenge, as they travel to Switzerland to take on Young Boys on 20 October.