Apoel picked up their first point in the group stage of the Europa League as they drew 2-2 against Qarabag at the Tofiq Bahramov stadium. The draw kept alive Apoel’s slim chances of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Apoel’s coach Thomas Doll surprised a few with his squad selections by dropping Jordanian ace Musa Al-Taamari from the squad. He opted to start the game with two out-and-out strikers Hallenius and Pavlovic and also reverted to a back three.
Qarabag took the lead in the 13th minute after Gentzoglou lost possession to Zoubir outside Apoel’s penalty area and he passed to the unmarked Quintana who had no problem lifting the ball over the advancing Belec.
Apoel were stunned and were unable to string more than two passes together but the Azeri failed to capitalize on the visiting team’s shortcomings as they failed to carve any other opening.
The Cyprus champions managed to equalise just before the half hour after winning a free kick just outside Qarabag’s box in their first attack. Matic’s chipped the ball into the area and Ioannou rose at the near post to head past goalkeeper Asimovic.
Then, in the final minute of the half, two mistakes, the first one by Ailton, the second one by Sadikov at the back, allowed Hallenius to race unmarked and calmly slot the ball past Asimovic to give Apoel the lead.
Qarabag came out in the second half with all guns blazing and pinned their opponents back.
It was no surprise when the Azeris equalised with Michel in the 58th minute after the Apoel defence were caught napping, following a quickly taken corner.
Qarabag continued to push forward in search of the winner but Apoel’s defence stood firm and Belec’s goal was rarely threatened.
Apoel will be more than satisfied with the point as they offered precious little going forward. It took them 25 minutes to launch their first attack in the second half and they will have to improve offensively if they are to defeat Qarabaq in a fortnight’s time in Nicosia and become favourites to secure the second place in the group to advance to the knockout stages.