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APOEL FC midfielder Nuno Morais said there could have been no more fitting venue for the end of his team's European adventure than the Santiago Bernabéu where the Cypriot champions succumbed to tournament giants Real Madrid CF.
Ivan Jovanović's side knew before kick-off in the Spanish capital that they faced an onerous task trying to claw back a 3-0 first-leg deficit and the Liga leaders quickly moved out of sight in the tie by registering first-half goals through Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká. The visitors rallied after the restart, however, and despite conceding three more times, were happy to hit the target twice themselves thanks to Gustavo Manduca's fine finish and Esteban Solari's 82nd-minute penalty.
"It was fantastic playing against Real Madrid, they are one of the best teams in the world," Morais told UEFA.com afterwards. "Obviously it was difficult but I think we gave a good impression of ourselves and we are happy with the journey we've had in the Champions League this season."
APOEL's incredible foray into European football's elite competition began almost nine months ago away to Albanian side KS Skënderbeu in the second qualifying round. Then, after eliminating ŠK Slovan Bratislava and Wisła Kraków in further qualifiers, they became the first Cypriot team to reach the knockout stages having topped a group that contained FC Zenit St Petersburg, FC Porto and FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Olympique Lyonnais fell in the round of 16 before Madrid arrived in the last eight.
"From the qualifying rounds and into the group stage, we are left with so many memories," former Portuguese Under-21 international Morais said. "The play-off win against Wisła at home was truly fantastic, while in the group stage we just said we would try to win as many points as possible. Against Lyon it was another unforgettable night in Nicosia when we went through on penalties.
We don't know if we were lucky or unlucky to draw Madrid but to finish our participation in the tournament against them was brilliant."
Solari, the former UD Almería striker and brother of ex-Madrid winger Santiago, voiced his delight at being part of a history-making APOEL outfit who, in his view, did the 4,000 visiting fans proud. "We did well in the second half tonight. We tried to attack the game at that stage and created some chances while scoring a couple of goals," the 31-year-old Argentinian said. "We leave with heads held high knowing we gave our all. Our achievement is cause for great pride for this club and for everyone in Cyprus. The dream is over but what better way to end it than against a team like Madrid, who may well turn out to be the champions."
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