AEK won the Cyprus Cup on Wednesday evening with a pulsating 2-1 come from behind victory over Apollon at the GSP stadium in Nicosia.
Going for their third straight cup win, the first 45 minutes belonged entirely to Apollon, who dominated play and did not allow AEK any space or time on the ball.
Fotis Papoulis hit the post in the 21st minute with AEK goalkeeper Juan Pablo well beaten while a few minutes later Papoulis seemed certain to open the scoring but for a last-ditch interception by AEK defender Daniel Mojsof with the goal gaping.
Apollon finally managed to break the deadlock in the first minute of added time when two players who were not expected to make the starting line-up, Adrian Sardinero and Andrei Schembri combined, with Schembri sidefooting Sardinero’s cross past Pablo from close range.
All AEK could manage in the first half was a tame effort by Ivan Trickovski that went well wide.
The second half began with AEK showing a lot more passion and winning the individual battles especially in midfield where they were completely overrun in the first half.
With the minutes ticking away though and seeing that his side could not create any openings, AEK manager Imanol Idiakez decided to introduce his top scorer Florian Taulemesse into the game and he was vindicated when the Frenchman prodded the ball into the net in the 69th minute after goalkeeper Bruno Vale could only parry David Catala’s goalbound header.
Two minutes later Acoran Rayes raced onto Apostolos Giannou’s through ball and beat Bruno Vale from just inside the area to turn the game around.
In the remaining minutes Apollon pushed everyone forward in search of an equaliser but Papoulis was unable to hit the target on two occasions, first heading well over the bar from close range and then seeing his shot go agonisingly wide when he only had Pablo to beat.
Then in the dying seconds of the game Pablo instinctively beat away Emilio Zelaya’s close-range effort to preserve AEK’s lead.
Apollon finished the game with 10 men after Esteban Sachetti was given his marching orders in added time after receiving two yellow cards.
As the final whistle blew AEK celebrated their second Cyprus Cup title, following their only previous victory back in 2004. That had been the only trophy they had won since their formation in 1994.
It is an overdue reward for a team that went so close to winning a trophy in recent years but who were often denied at the final hurdle.
For Apollon it was a heavy blow. The Limassol side played attacking and entertaining football throughout the season but finished empty-handed after they also lost the Cyprus championship on the final weekend of the playoffs.