Apollon are through to the second round of Europa League League qualifying after an emphatic 5-1 win over Georgian side Saburtalo Tbilisi in Nicosia on Thursday night.
Apollon lined up in an interesting formation with three centre backs. Although it looked something like a 4-4-1-1 when defending, the Blues were playing in something closer to a 3-4-3 for most of the game.
Szalai, the left-side centre-back slid to the left as the defenders split while in possession. Middle centre-back Roberge would occasionally step up into midfield to provide angles and help with the build-up. In turn, the wing backs pushed up to provide width.
Coach Sofronis Avgousti positioned his players quite high up the pitch, with bursts of pressing unsettling Saburtalo, forcing a great number of turnovers and errors.
Apollon started well, opening the score in the fourth minute. Diguiny cut the ball back from the left, missing Gianniotas, but finding Dabo outside the box, who thumped the ball into the net.
This was followed by a mistake from goalkeeper Mall, whose risky play inside the box almost gifted Saburtalo an equaliser.
Apollon doubled their lead in the 32nd minute, after good play from outside Subartalo’s box moved the ball to Pittas on the left. Pittas dribbled past his opponent and passed horizontally to Dabo for a simple finish.
The Limassol side killed the game in the 59th minute with their third goal of the game. Sacheti stole the ball high up the pitch, giving it Dabo who made his way just inside the box on the right. Dabo passed the ball to Matei who was in a central position, and he just waltz forward, finding himself in a one-on-one situation. With just the keeper to beat, Matei chose the unselfish option and left it to Diguiny for an easy goal.
The Georgians clawed one back in the 69th minute. A poor through pass from Szalai outside Saburtalo’s box allowed the Georgian side to break on the counter, with Kavtaradze finishing well against Joel Mall.
Apollon responded almost immediately, scoring a fourth goal in the 76th minute. Szalai made up for his mistake, squaring it for Dabo from the left. This sealed Dabo’s hat-trick after an impressive display from the Frenchman.
Saburtalo were reduced to ten men in the 80th minute after Chichinadze’s dangerous foul on Roberge.
Greek winger Gianniotas put the cherry on the cake for Apollon in the 86th minute with the game’s most impressive finish, curling the ball into the top right-hand corner from an inside left position outside of the box.