APOEL Nicosia FC 1-0 FC Flora (APOEL win 1-0 on aggregate)
APOEL Nicosia FC squeezed into the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round after a narrow victory over FC Flora in stifling conditions.
The Cypriot side were the better side in a sweltering GSP stadium in Nicosia tonight but could only manage a 51st-minute goal from Stavros Georgiou against a team that finished with ten men. The victory means APOEL will now meet Slovenian champions NK Maribor in the next round and, with some of the bigger names avoided, APOEL will believe they have every chance of going even further.
Coach sent off
The evening started badly for Flora, as they had coach Arno Pijpers sent off for dissent after just four minutes. However, they created the first real chance of the game on the quarter-hour when Tor Hamre's clever backward header forced Michael Morphis into a great save in the APOEL goal.
It was a tense time for the hosts, as they then lost key striker Barnabas Sztipanovics to injury a minute later. The sides then traded chances before APOEL's Costas Malekkos worked an excellent opening eight minutes before the interval. He tricked his way past two defenders before cannoning his shot on to the post.
Malekkos was by far the most influential player on the pitch and it was no surprise that he was involved in the goal that ultimately decided the tie, after a goalless first leg last week. In the 51st minute, he again found space before threading an excellent pass to Georgiou. There was still plenty for his team-mate to do but, with his back to goal, Georgiou turned his marker before lashing a fierce shot past Flora goalkeeper Martin Kaalma.
Despite the crowd expecting APOEL to go on and make the game safe, the Cypriot team, wary of conceding an away goal, sat back and handed the initiative to a resilient Flora. Dutch midfield player Ray Frankl went the closest for the Estonian team, when he scraped a shot against Morphis' left-hand post with 15 minutes to play.
APOEL managed to hold on, though, and were never in danger of losing once Flora were reduced to ten men. Raio Piiroja was ordered off for dissent four minutes from time, after complaining at being given a yellow card for a foul. The straight red took the wind out of Flora's sails and left APOEL on course for victory.
"We would have considered this a complete failure if we had not gone past this round," said Cyprus goalkeeper Morphis after the match. "We have great ambitions this year for the Champions League."
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