Disproving predictions: Cypriot clubs in European competitions

A look at major achievements of Cypriot football teams in European competitions

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Disproving predictions: Cypriot clubs in European competitions

Cyprus, despite being a small island of no more than a million inhabitants, has managed a number of great achievements in European club football during the past 12 years.

The first major success came from Anorthosis Famagusta in the summer of 2008 when they managed to become the first Cypriot club to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League.

However, before delving further into the major achievements of Cypriot clubs in Europe, it is worth having a look at some of the major results of Cypriot teams in European competitions before 2008.

Omonoia Nicosia – 1979

In 1979, during the second round of the European Cup, Omonoia Nicosia faced Ajax. The first leg took place in Amsterdam with Ajax winning the game with an extraordinary score of 10-0. The score of the first leg allowed Ajax to play the second game with a lot of reserve players.

Despite the first game result and heavy rotation, in a full Makario stadium in front of 20,000 fans, Omonoia Nicosia won the game with 4-0 (Georgiou, Demetriou, Kaiafas). This is still one of the biggest European wins for Omonoia.

Apollon Limassol – 1993

Apollon Limassol faced Inter Milan at Tsirio Stadium for the second leg of the second round of the 1993-94 UEFA Cup. The first leg took place at Giuseppe Meazza where Inter Milan won with an unanswered Dennis Bergkamp goal. During the second leg, Inter Milan took an early lead of two goals, scored by Davide Fontolan (6th minute) and Dennis Bergkamp (9th minute).

Apollon Limassol didn’t give up and managed to equalize with Milenko Špoljarić (11th minute) and Sladan Scepovic (30th minute). Inter Milan took the lead again in the 38th minute with Davide Fontolan, however, Giorgos Iosifidis scored a header in the 83rd minute which secured a historic draw for Apollon Limassol. Inter Milan proceeded to the next round and went all the way to win the UEFA cup trophy.

Anorthosis Famagusta – 2005

In 2005 Anorthosis faced Trabzonspor for the second qualifying round of the Champions League. This was the first time in history a Cypriot football club faced a Turkish one after the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. There was an additional element of importance due to Anorthosis being a displaced club themselves, with their fanbase consisting of first or second-generation refugees.

The first leg took place at GSP stadium of Nicosia and Anorthosis Famagusta was not only cheered on by their own fans but supported by fans of various clubs who were on the stands dressed in their own teams’ shirts. This was a unique phenomenon at the time, showing the emotional nature of the game.

In an electric atmosphere, Anorthosis took the lead with their captain Nicos Nicolaou in the 24th minute, however, the Turkish side equalized with Faith Tekke in the 75th minute.

Anorthosis managed to score twice in the 83rd and 90th minute (Nikos Froussos and Klimenti Tsitaisvilli) and celebrated a huge victory.

A week later the Cypriot team flew to Trebizond with the goal of proceeding to the next round.

In a packed stadium and under a fanatic atmosphere, Trabzonspor scored in the 40th minute with Faith Tekke and needed one more goal to qualify for the next round.

This was achieved in the 95th minute, however, seconds later the goal was disallowed by the assistant referee as an offside.

Anorthosis managed to qualify for the third round where they faced Glasgow Rangers, now just a step before reaching the UEFA Champions League group stage. Rangers won both games (2-1 away and 2-0 home) and hence the Cypriot team was knocked out of the competition.

The first major success and group stage presence

Four years after the triumph against Trabzonspor, Anorthosis, still under ex-Newcastle United player Temur Ketsbaia, were competing again in the Champions League.

The first qualification battle was against the Armenian team of Pyunik. Anorthosis managed to qualify after two victories with 1-0 at home and 2-0 away. The next team to compete against was Rapid Wien.

Despite Anorthosis being the underdogs of the tie, they won the first game with an emphatic 3-0. Skopelitis scored the first goal and Polish forward Sosin the other two. The Cypriot team lost the away match with 3-1 and moved onto the third qualifying round.

For the last qualification round before the group stage, Anorthosis faced Greek club Olympiacos Piraeus. The first leg took place at a packed Antonis Papadopoulos and Anorthosis after an amazing performance managed a huge victory with 3-0.

An own goal by Torosidis at the 4th minute, a header by Sosin at the 17th minute and a shot of Laban which was deflected before hitting the back of the net at the 86th minute secured the victory for the Cypriot side.

During the game being played at Karaiskakis stadium in Athens, Olympiacos won with 1-0, however, Anorthosis celebrated their qualification to the UEFA Champions’ League group stage due to the first game score. It was the first time in history a Cypriot team would participate in the group stage of a European competition.

In a competitive group which consisted of Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and Panathinaikos, Anorthosis had a decent go at it and managed to record some great results.

Despite eventually finishing at the bottom of the group with 6 points, Anorthosis won the home game against Panathinaikos with 3-1 (Sarriegi own goal, Dobrasinovic, Hawar) and managed two draws against Werder Bremen (0-0 away and 2-2 home).

In addition, Anorthosis drew at home against Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. The match finished 3-3 with Bardon, Panagi and Frousos being the scorers for the Cypriot side.

The biggest success of a Cypriot team

APOEL, under Ivan Jovanovic, were aiming to proceed to the group stage of the Champions League for the second time after their 2009 achievement. The journey for the Nicosia club started in July against the Albanian side of Skenderbeu.

APOEL easily won twice with 2-0 away and 4-0 at home which sent them to the next qualification round against Slovan Bratislava. The first leg finished in a goalless draw and hence the team to proceed to the play-off round would be decided at the second leg in Bratislava. APOEL scored twice with Ailton Almeida and Gustavo Manduca and qualified for the next round.

Just before the group stage, APOEL faced Wisla Krakow. Despite the Cypriot club losing the first leg with 1-0, they managed a fantastic 3-1 victory at home (Manduca, Ailton twice) and proceeded to the group stage of the Champions League.

In a group made up of Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk, the odds were firmly stacked against APOEL. However, the Cypriot side not only qualified, but also managed to finish on top of the group with 9 points.

This was after two home victories over Zenit and Porto with 2-1, and three away draws against Shakhtar (1-1), Zenit (1-1) and Porto (0-0). APOEL became the first Cypriot team to proceed from the group to the knockout stage of a European competition.

At the round of 16 they played against Lyon (France) with the first leg taking place in France. APOEL lost the first game with a 1-0 score.

In a packed GSP stadium, APOEL managed to take an early lead in the 9th minute with Manduca. However, the score remained unchanged until the end and the game went to extra time.

No team scored in the 30 minutes of extra time taking the game to penalties. Goalkeeper Dionysios Chiotis was the hero for the Cypriot side. By saving two penalties, the Greek sent APOEL to the quarter-finals, an amazing feat.

In the quarter-finals, APOEL faced competition kings Real Madrid, an impossible mission.

The Cypriot side lost both games, at home with 3-0 and away with 5-2. However, their performance in the Champions League that season is still the biggest success for a Cypriot side in a European competition.

AEK Larnaca

In 2008, AEK Larnaca were relegated to the second division for the first time in their history. Just a year later, the Larnaca team were promoted to the first division and at the end of the 2010-11 season finished fourth, thus qualifying for the Europa League.

During the second qualification round, AEK faced Maltese side Floriana. After an away 8-0 and a home 1-0 victory AEK proceeded to the next round.

Against Mlada Boleslav from the Czech Republic, AEK didn’t struggle too much, winning the first leg at home with 3-0, followed by an away 2-2 draw. The Cypriot side qualified for the play-offs of the competition.

The next opponent was Norwegian club Rosenborg. The first leg took place away and ended in a goalless draw. In the second leg, which took place in Antonis Papadopoulos stadium, AEK managed to win 2-1, with Van Dijk scoring both goals for AEK, both times with penalty kicks.

AEK Larnaca became the first Cypriot team to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League.

AEK participated in Group J which also consisted of Maccabi Haifa, Shalke 04 and Steaua Bucuresti. Though AEK ended up finishing in fourth place, they managed to win the home game against Maccabi Haifa with 2-1 (Garcia, Pintado), in addition to two draws; with Steaua Bucuresti at home (1-1) and Shalke 04 in Germany (0-0).

In the 2018-2019 season, AEK managed for the second time in their history to qualify for the Europa League group stage. This came after knocking out the Irish side Dundalk (4-0 at home and 0-0 away), Dinamo Minsk (2-0 at home and 1-1 away) and Slovakian club Trencin (3-0 at home and 1-1 away).

During the group stage, the Cypriot team had to compete against FC Zurich, Bayern Leverkusen and Ludogorets Razgrad from Bulgaria.

AEK did better than the first time as they finished in third place. They won the game against Zurich away with 2-1 and drew both games against Ludogorets Razgrad (1-1 at home and 0-0 away).

AEL Limassol

AEL Limassol won the Cypriot league title in 2012, their first in 44 years. Soon after, Pambos Christodoulou’s side would participate in the Champions League for the first time in the history of the club.

During the second qualification round, the Cypriot club knocked out the Northern Irish side Linfield after a 3-0 home victory and an away 0-0 draw.

The next opponent of AEL was Partizan. The first leg took place in Antonis Papadopoulos which AEL won with a 1-0  score (Vouho). A week later in Belgrade AEL won with 1-0 after a shot inside the box by Dossa Junior.

AEL consequently faced Anderlecht in the play-off round of the Champions League. After a great performance, they won the first home leg with 2-1 (Junior, Rui Miguel). The Cypriot side managed to keep the score goalless for 80 minutes in Brussels, however, Anderlecht then scored two goals (81st and 89th minute) and proceeded to the next round.

Despite their exit, AEL won a ticket for the Europa League group stage. In a difficult group consisting of Marseille, Fenerbache and Borussia Monchengladbach, AEL finished fourth with four points after a 3-0 home victory over Marseille and a goalless home draw against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Apollon Limassol

Apollon Limassol are among the most successful Cypriot football clubs in European competitions. The Limassol side have managed to qualify for the group stage of the Europa League four times during the past seven seasons.

The first time was in 2013, after qualifying to the Europa League by winning the cup final against fellow Limassol club AEL.

Apollon qualified to the play-off round where, under the guidance of manager Christakis Christoforou, faced French club Nice.

The first leg took place in GSP stadium where Apollon took a 2-0 victory with Argentine forward Gaston Sangoy scoring both goals.

A week later they faced the French away in Nice. Despite the Cypriot team conceding an early goal, they managed to keep the score 1-0, going through on aggregate.

Apollon qualified for the group stage of the Europa League for the first time in the history of the club.

In the group stage, Apollon faced Italian side Lazio, Polish Legia Warsaw and Turkish club Trabzonspor.

The Cypriot side managed the first away win of any Cypriot team in a group stage of a European competition against Legia Warsaw with 1-0 (Gaston Sangoy). Apollon then drew against Lazio at home, however, the Cypriot side finished at the bottom of the group.

A year later Apollon did it again. In the first leg of play-offs, the home game against Lokomotiv Moscow ended in a 1-1 draw, with Guie scoring the goal for Apollon.

Despite being underdogs, Apollon Limassol, after an incredible performance, won the away match with 4-1 and qualified to the Europa League group stage for the second time in a row. Rezek, Papoulis, Touram and Lopez scored the goals for the Limassol side.

Apollon participated in group A which consisted of Villareal, Zurich and Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Limassol team finished fourth having won only the home game against Zurich with 3-2 (Papoulis, Gullon, Zurich own goal).

During the 2017-2018 season, Apollon qualified for the third time in their history for the Europa League group stage.

Ex-player and local legend Sofronis Avgousti led the team to knock-out aggregate results over Zaira Baiti (3-0 at home and 2-1 away), Aberdeen (2-0 at home and 1-2 away) and Danish club Midtylland (3-2 home and 1-1 away).

In a group against English side Everton, French Lyon and and Italian Atalanta, Apollon finished in fourth position but had some great results, such as the away 2-2 draw with Everton and two home draws against Lyon and Atalanta with 1-1.

Next season, Apollon Limassol qualified again for the second time in a row and fourth time in total to the Europa League group stage.

This was after the Cypriot side knocked out Stumbras (2-0 home, 0-1 away), Zelenicar (3-1 home and 2-1 away), Dynamo Brest (4-0 home and 0-1 away) and Basel (2-3 away and 1-0 home).

At the group stage, Apollon faced Lazio, Marseille and Eintracht Franfurt, with the Cypriot team managing to finish the group in third place.

This is the best achievement of Apollon Limassol in the Europa League so far, which came after a home victory over Lazio with 2-0 (Faupala, Markovic), an away win against Marseille with 3-1 (Stylianou, Maglica twice) and a home 2-2 draw against Marseille.

The best achievement of any Cypriot team in the Europa League

During the 2016-2017 season, APOEL Nicosia started their European campaign at the second qualification round of the Champions League. They knocked out Welsh side of New Saints with an easy 3-0 home victory and a goalless away draw.

Their next opponent was Rosenborg and, despite APOEL losing the away leg with 2-1, managed to win at home with 3-0 and proceeded to the play-off round of the Champions League. There, they faced Copenhagen.

APOEL were knocked out after an away defeat with 1-0 and a home 1-1 draw. However, the Nicosia team then participated in the group stage of the Europa League.

The group consisted of Astana, Olympiacos and Young Boys. Apoel managed an incredible four victories. These consisted of wins against Olympiacos (0-1 away, 2-0 home), Astana (2-1 home) and Young Boys (1-0 at home).

This resulted in APOEL finishing at the top of the group and became the first and only Cypriot team until today to have qualified to the knock-out stage of 32 of the Europa League. There they faced Basque club Athletic Bilbao.

The first leg took place in Spain and finished 3-2 for Athletic Bilbao. APOEL managed to score a late goal at the 89th minute with Giannis Giannotas which kept the dreams of the Cypriot side alive.

The second leg occurred a week later in a full GSP stadium. Under an electric atmosphere, APOEL won the game with 2-0 (Pieros Sotiriou, Giannis Giannotas) and qualified to the stage of 16.

However, the European journey of the Nicosia team ended thereafter, losing both games against Anderlecht with a 1-0 score home and away.

by Joseph Violaris

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