Apoel kept their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the Europa League alive after coming from behind to defeat Qarabag FK 2-1 in front under 10,000 fans at the GSP stadium on Thursday night.
Tomas Doll opted yet again to play with three central defenders and brought Joazinhio back in from the cold who had not started a game in weeks. Mossa Al Tamaari’s recent poor form did not go unnoticed and he was dropped from the starting eleven.
His game plan, however, let him down in the opening 45 minutes as his team was unimaginative and lethargic, losing possession and failing to exchange more than a couple of passes in the opposing half. The initial cheers of the home fans turned to jeers as they were witnessing perhaps one of the worst opening 45 minutes by Apoel in a European game in recent years.
Qarabag FK was in complete control of the first half and opened the score in the 10th minute after Quintana’s corner kick was headed in at the far post by the unmarked Medvedev silencing the home crowd.
The Azeris should have had a second when Gyeye, who had replaced the injured Quintana, completely mis-kicked his shot with only goalkeeper Belec to beat.
Apoel needed 25 minutes for their first attempt on goal but Pavlovic’s timid effort was comfortably held by Azeri goalkeeper Begovic. Ten minutes from the break Pavlovic did find the back of the net but his effort was correctly ruled out for offside.
During the break, Doll tried to inject some pace into his team bringing on Al Tamaari and Apoel pushed further up the field but in doing so, left gaps at the back. In the opening 10 minutes of the second half, Belec came to the rescue of Apoel on at least three occasions with some superb saves.
Then as the jeers began to creep back Apoel equalised. Matic’s corner was firmly headed by Souza past Begovic just before the hour mark.
The goal lifted Apoel and for 10 minutes they took control of the game without however being able to create any chances. After that spell, Qarabag gradually forced their way back into the game but could not find the goal that would have killed off Apoel’s hopes of an unexpected comeback.
Then with just two minutes left on the clock, Apoel scored the winner after another Matic corner was volleyed past Begovic by Efraim to the cheers this time of the home fans.