The Monday night game between Anorthosis and Apollon in the first round of the championship playoff group was an incredibly incendiary affair, not so much the final result (2-2), but for the way the game unfolded and how it’s being interpreted by the Limassol club and its supporters.
The furore revolves around two key decisions which impacted the game with both of them involving the referee and the use of VAR.
The first incident took place in the 19th minute of the first half. With Apollon leading 0-1 after Nicolas Diguiny’s goal, recent signing Wilde Donald Guerrier competed for an aerial ball against Anorthosis winger Nikos Kaltsas.
Guerrier’s elbow made contact with Kaltsas’ head resulting in a head injury for the latter. Although the challenge can be interpreted either way the referee deemed it a red card after being called to review the incident on his pitchside monitor. The Apollon bench erupted at the decision and Apollon staff member and retired goalkeeper Michalis Fani received a red card for his protestations.
The second incident came in the 73rd minute and involved a possible handball by Apollon centre back Valentin Roberge. With the score being 1-2 for Apollon, Anorthosis forward Tornike Okriashvili cut in from the right-hand side, carrying the ball towards Apollon’s penalty arc, before unleashing a shot roughly two yards away from Roberge, with the ball hitting the Frenchman’s arm.
This incident had two facets to it. The first question was whether it was a handball and the second was whether it had been inside the penalty area. After reviewing the incident, referee Timotheos Christofi and the VAR team decided that it was both a handball and inside the area. A penalty was awarded and duly scored by Anorthosis forward Giorgi Kvilitaia.
At the final whistle, Apollon chairman Nicos Kirzis spoke to cable television channel Cablenet who had been broadcasting the game, something which is out of the ordinary for any chairman to do.
“I haven’t come here just to complain. Firstly, I want to congratulate my team, my players and the entire staff for a good performance against an excellent opponent. Anorthosis don’t often drop points at home. Our players played very well but unfortunately they were not fighting a fair battle,” said Kirzis.
“I will refer specifically to VAR official Giorgos Nikolaou. It appears that his bias surfaces once again and just like every other time he takes charge of VAR in our games. Nikolaou and the referee shaped the final result of the game. As a club, we will not stand for this situation any longer. Our silence is being interpreted as tolerance but this has to stop,” added the Apollon president.
Kirizis explained that Apollon had no issues with hosts Anorthosis and that their complaints were solely about the referee and the VAR official.
“We have no problems with Anorthosis. Their hospitality was exemplary. The issues are strictly around the match officials. We were the first to congratulate the Cyprus Football Association for the implementation of VAR in Cyprus and we were the first to ask that foreign referees were used in crucial matches. We have communicated this to our representative in the CFA. This is our demand. Cypriot referees are simply not able to rise to the occasion,” Kirzis stated.
“We are not responsible for appointing referees. However, Giorgos Nikolaou is persona non grata for Apollon. They are trying to have him officiate our games in a sideways fashion. People can see what’s happening with their own eyes. We have seen what Timotheos Christofi and Giorgos Nikolaou have done in other games in the past. We want foreign referees from tomorrow. I think other teams agree with us on this. The refusal to do this is not a financial issue. If there is a will to do this we can all find the funds to make it happen,” the Apollon president concluded.
Apollon manager Giannis Petrakis also referred to the referee in his post-match press conference.
“We fought an uneven fight against a very good side. My players put in a tremendous effort. I think the game should have turned out differently although I do not wish to downplay Anorthosis’ performance,” Petrakis said.
“Unfortunately, despite the importance and value of VAR, it still allows for the multiple interpretations of the same incident. Strangely, this has been happening against us,” Petrakis added.
Anorthosis manager Temur Ketsbaia cut a more diplomatic figure during his own post-match press conference, referring to the officiating decisions as “certain things taking place”.
On the red card incident, Ketsbaia said that he had not seen the replays but that something must have happened for his player to have suffered a gash on his head.
“I cannot commentate on the decisions but our player’s head was injured and he was bleeding. This means that something serious happened,” Ketsbaia said.
“Certainly, neither we nor Apollon are satisfied with the final result but we have nine more games to play and we will keep going,” Ketsbaia added.
Anorthosis’ press officer Demetris Christoforou deviated from Apollon’s demand to hire foreign referees but respected the Limassol club’s position nonetheless.
“Obviously Apollon have the right to take this stand. We will table a formal opinion if we are asked by the CFA. Our steady position has been to support Cypriot referees,” Christoforou said after the game.
“We have also had some issues with VAR but even then we stated that more time should be given and we are saying the same thing now,” the Anorthosis press officer added.
The Apollon press officer Fanourios Constantinou was more scathing in his assessment and echoes chairman Kirzis’ thoughts.
“The images speak for themselves. What more can I say? I want to say congratulations to our fans for tolerating this situation,” Constantinou stated to local outlet Kerkida.
Constantinou refused to provide a comment on Anorthosis’ stance on Cypriot referees.
“I respect the people at Anorthosis so I will not be commenting on their official position on this matter,” Constantinou said.
“Reporting this referee [Timotheos Christofi] to the CFA is essentially a mockery of a process. We have reported referees in the past and they were immediately assigned for our next game. I will not rush to predict the outcome of us reporting the referee but have you ever seen them being punished?”, Constantinou added.
“If there are clubs that are being treated differently then it’s reasonable for them to want their games to be officiated by Cypriot referees. I am neither unreasonable nor am I being paranoid,” Constantinou concluded.
Apollon vice president Antonis Glykis took to social media to voice his thoughts on the game and the debate around Cypriot referees.
“We are talking about war here. This has been the case for years now. Due to Apollon’s honour and principles, we have never entered into any negotiations or illicit talks with other clubs or their staff. We have even been accused by our own fans for our stance on this. This is who we are. We will not change. In my humble opinion, this is why the board of Apollon is being unfairly targeted. It has bolstered the squad to beat both the rival team and the level of refereeing and any other external factors,” said Glykis.
“We have fought for the use of foreign referees. A lot of people were laughing at us for that but we managed, if only for a short while, to harmonize the situation. We fought for the introduction of VAR and indeed mistakes have decreased. However, it is undeniable that some have managed to yet again find a way to alter the final result. This situation cannot go on like this,” added Glykis.
Phivos Vakis, Apollon’s representative at the Cyprus Football Association, explained that the use of both Cypriot and foreign referees had been discussed by the CFA in the past but that it would be reintroduced after recent events.
“It is clear that after last night’s incidents that the VAR official is showing a certain bias. He has repeatedly taken it upon himself to take certain key decisions in Apollon’s games. Either that or he can’t see. There is an issue here,” Vakis said.
“While VAR was meant to assist it has ended up making things more difficult. At the moment, we are not seeing VAR being used in a manner expected by supporters and the CFA is not satisfied either”, Vakis added.
In three posts shared on Facebook after the game, Apollon published three clips from the game to support their case.
One incident shows Spyros Risvanis climbing above Nicolas Diguiny to head the ball with the Greek defender’s hands having some sort of contact with the French forward, the other incident shows Murtaz Daushvili’s elbow having some contact with Diguiny again, while the third and most contentious incident allegedly shows referee Timotheos Christofi saying “shut up” towards the Apollon bench.
Finally, the CFA has confirmed that it will convene on Wednesday to discuss the introduction of foreign referees. This comes after the official request to do so from Apollon representative Phivos Vakis.
The full highlights of the game can be seen below: