APOEL FC have become the first Cypriot side to reach the UEFA Champions League knockout stage after a goalless draw with FC Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.
Though the statistics favoured Zenit − they created 23 chances to APOEL's one and enjoyed 63% possession − they found the visitors' resolute defence impenetrable. Aleksandr Bukharov wasted a glorious opportunity in the second half, but the fact Urko Pardo only had to make one serious save throughout told its own story.
APOEL knew a draw would be good enough to send them through − they cannot be overtaken by both Zenit and FC Porto, who meet on matchday six − and from the opening exchanges it was clear their game plan was to play for a point. Ivan Jovanović's men were content to concede possession to the Russian champions as they packed their defence.
Despite plenty of intricate approach play, Luciano Spalletti's team hardly tested Pardo. With APOEL cramming the centre of the pitch, space was at a premium for the Sine-belo-golubye and not even the invention of Danny, who slid a couple of inviting balls in behind, could help engineer a breakthrough.
Roman Shirokov threatened in the 26th minute after good work down the right from Bukharov, but his effort, with his weaker right foot, was easily cleared by the impressive Marcelo Oliveira.
Zenit continued to dominate after the resumption and they should have taken the lead on the hour, as Shirokov's quick free-kick found Bukharov on the penalty spot. The striker's header rattled the crossbar and any frustration he momentarily sensed was compounded when he put the loose ball wide with the goal at his mercy.
Viktor Fayzulin thought he had given Zenit, who had won their past nine European home games, the advantage with quarter of an hour remaining. Once again, though, it was a case of Oliveira to the rescue, the centre-back clearing the winger's well-placed shot off the goal line.
Pardo was finally called into action with time running out, tipping away a right-foot shot from Danny which was heading for the top corner. APOEL will win Group G if they defeat eliminated FC Shakhtar Donetsk at home on 6 December.
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