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Apollon net late winner, AEK stumble away

Apollon players celebrate after scoring against FC Midtjylland

Apollon earned a dramatic 3-2 victory over FC Midtjylland in the Europa League playoff first leg while AEK lost 3-1 away at Viktoria Plzen, though an away goal still leaves the Larnaca side in with an outside chance of turning things around in the reverse fixture.

Charalampos Kyriakou got Apollon off to an ideal start on 15 minutes as he twisted and turned before arrowing a fine strike into the bottom corner from outside the box.

Midtjylland fired a warning sign soon after, when Alexander Sörloth was slipped through on goal but his tame strike was tipped to safety by Bruno Vale in the Apollon goal.

Eventually, the striker made amends seven minutes before the break. Winger Jonas Borring lofted a hopeful ball inside the area which was attacked well by Sörloth, and the header crept inside the far post to give the visiting Danes an important away goal.

A similar chance was fashioned at the other end of the field just before half time, as a cross to the far stick found Jander but the Apollon full back headed just wide.

Apollon emerged far more positive after the restart and began to put their guests under real pressure.

On 60 minutes, Midtjylland keeper Jesper Hansen received a let-off as he seemed to fumble a routine catch but, just as it was about to fall to the feet of Anton Maglica, the referee blew his whistle for a harsh free-kick.

The hosts regained a deserved lead ten minutes later when Andre Schembri’s nutmeg pass played Jander through and the full-back blasted the ball home for 2-1.

The joy was short-lived for the home side though, as Sörloth broke beyond the Apollon defence and slotted the ball into the corner to make it 2-2.

However, it was to be a memorable night for the Apollon faithful as young substitute Ioannis Pittas struck an injury-time winner (3-2), giving the Limassol club a crucial advantage ahead of next Thursday’s decider.

Viktoria Plzen’s Doosan Arena is one of the tougher venues of those remaining in the Europa League playoff round, but AEK managed to get off to a dream start. Acoran Barrera was on hand to tap in from close range after just eight minutes, giving AEK a precious away goal.

The hosts responded quickly and, by half time, managed to get ahead. Marek Bakos levelled things up on 28 minutes with an exceptional direct free-kick which went in off the post, leaving Juan Pablo helpless in the AEK goal.

It was 2-1 on 36 minutes when David Limbersky’s cross found Daniel Kolar in the box who controlled and then shot on the turn, guiding the ball past the keeper.
AEK looked short of ideas in the second period as the hosts took control of the game. On 74 minutes, Bakos made it 3-1 for Plzen from the penalty spot after a hand ball in the box, a scoreline which carried through until the end.

The return fixtures take place next Thursday, with Apollon seeking to defend their narrow lead away from home, while AEK will be looking to their supporters at the Arena in Larnaca to push them to a big victory.

Results from the UEFA Europa League play-offs first leg matches on Thursday:

AC Milan (Italy) – KF Shkendija (Macedonia) 6-0 (halftime: 3-0)
Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) – Rosenborg Trondheim (Norway) 0-1 (halftime: 0-0)
Club Bruges (Belgium) – AEK (Greece) 0-0 (halftime: 0-0)
FC Viitorul Constanta (Romania) – Salzburg (Austria) 1-3 (halftime: 1-3)
Legia Warsaw (Poland) – Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) 1-1 (halftime: 0-0)
Domzale (Slovenia) – Olympique Marseille (France) 1-1 (halftime: 1-0)
Osijek (Croatia) – Austria Vienna (Austria) 1-2 (halftime: 1-1)
SCR Altach (Austria) – Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) 0-1 (halftime: 0-0)
Ludogorets (Bulgaria) – Suduva Marijampole (Lithuania) 2-0 (halftime: 0-0)
Panathinaikos (Greece) – Athletic Club (Spain) 2-3 (halftime: 1-0)
Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) – AEK Larnaca (Cyprus) 3-1 (halftime: 2-1)
FK Vardar (Macedonia) – Fenerbahce (Turkey) 2-0 (halftime: 1-0)
Paok Salonika (Greece) – Ostersunds FK (Sweden) 3-1 (halftime: 1-1)
FH (Iceland) – Braga (Portugal) 1-2 (halftime: 1-0)
Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) – Midtjylland (Denmark) 3-2 (halftime: 1-1)
BATE Borisov (Belarus) – FC Oleksandriya (Ukraine) 1-1 (halftime: 1-1)
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) – Skenderbeu (Albania) 1-1 (halftime: 0-1)
FC Krasnodar (Russia) – Red Star Belgrade (Serbia) 3-2 (halftime: 1-0)

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