In front of more than 16,000 supporters (highest league attendance in five years), Apoel defeated title rivals Apollon by 2-1 on Sunday evening and took a huge step towards retaining the championship for the sixth consecutive year.
It was perhaps Apoel’s best league display of the season with their coach Bruno Baltazar winning the tactical battle against Apollon’s Sofronis Avgousti.
Both managers set up their teams to attack but it was the home side who managed to dictate play and possession. Carlao and Polyakov were imperious in defence while man of the match Lucas Souza covered every blade of grass intercepting and using the ball intelligently.
Apoel could have wrapped up the game by half time as Lorenzo Embezilio missed two glorious chances and Igor de Camargo was inches away from tapping the ball into an empty net.
For once Apollon’s wily manager Avgousti got it all wrong. He started the game with two strikers and when he realised his midfield was outnumbered and his defence was living dangerously, he replaced two of his attack-minded players with two defensive ones.
Though this helped Apollon shore up its porous defence it rendered their attack toothless with Zelaya cutting a frustrated figure up front.
The game began so well for Apollon who managed to take the lead in their first attack on goal with Anton Maglica blasting the ball past Apoel’s goalkeeper Nauzet Perez for the fourth consecutive game this season.
Apoel were momentarily stunned. Any other team would probably have imploded, but showing true champion qualities they did not lose their resolve and tenacity and were rewarded 10 minutes later when Igor de Camargo struck the equaliser from the edge of the box.
It was the same player who gave Apoel the win with a simple tap in after Guilherme Dellatorre had set it up for him with still a third of the game to go.
In the remaining 30 minutes Apollon pushed forward in search of the equaliser but did not manage to conjure one decent goalscoring opportunity. Apoel coped with everything thrown at them with ease and had they been a bit more carful they could have made sure of the points much sooner than the final whistle.
In the final two rounds Apoel travel to Limassol to face AEL and then entertain Anorthosis in Nicosia while Apollon face AEK next at the Tsireion and their season ends with an away fixture to Omonia.
CHAMPIONSHIP GROUP: Apoel v Apollon 2-1, AEK – Omonia 2-0, Anorthosis v AEL 0-0
RELEGATION GROUP: Doxa v Ermis 2-3, Salamina v Olympiakos 3-0. Alki v Pafos FC (Mon)