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Cyprus's greatest European nights

Published: Tuesday 5 August 2014, 9.15CET
AEL Limassol FC's win against FC Zenit last week was not a one-off;'s John Leonidou recalls the finest European nights in Cypriot footballing history.
by John Leonidou
from Nicosia
Cyprus's greatest European nights
APOEL after their landmark round of 16 success against Lyon ©Getty Images
Published: Tuesday 5 August 2014, 9.15CET

Cyprus's greatest European nights

AEL Limassol FC's win against FC Zenit last week was not a one-off;'s John Leonidou recalls the finest European nights in Cypriot footballing history.

AEL Limassol FC's 1-0 win against FC Zenit last week was another reminder that Cypriot sides are a force to be reckoned with in Europe. APOEL FC's 16-1 loss to Sporting Clube de Portugal in the 1963/64 European Cup Winners' Cup remains the heaviest defeat in a major UEFA competition, but as discovers, Cyprus's clubs boast a notable back catalogue of greatest hits too.

The first big breakthrough

08/09/63, European Cup Winners' Cup preliminary round first leg

Takis Chailis hit a hat-trick (15, 61, 80) with Nikos Agathokleous (67), Marios Papallos (78) and Nikos Kantzilieris (86) also making their mark in a 6-0 home win against the then SK Gjøvik-Lyn. It was a landmark victory for a side coached by former Stoke City FC and England player Neil Franklin, who duly became the first Cypriot team to get through a round of UEFA club competition when Savvas Partakis (48) struck the solitary goal of the return leg 21 days later. That success was somewhat tarnished when APOEL fell 18-1 to Sporting over two legs in the first round proper – Solis Andreou scoring the visitors' goal in Lisbon.

A landmark success
AC Omonia 4-0 AFC Ajax
07/11/79, European Champion Clubs' Cup second round second leg

Ignore the first-leg result and it might have been the greatest upset in European history. Omonia had been taken apart by Ajax in Amsterdam, Søren Lerby netting five times in a 10-0 triumph for Leo Beenhakker's men, but Bulgarian coach Iancho Arsov led a bold comeback attempt in the return fixture.

Sotiris Georgiou (10), Filippos Demetriou (15) and star striker Sotiris Kaiafas (38, 55) made it 4-0 to the hosts after 55 minutes in Nicosia – just as it had been in the first leg. Omonia may not have gone on to score six more, yet a substantial win against big-name opponents remained a source of pride for the club – and an inspiration for other local sides.


A UEFA Champions League first
Anorthosis Famagusta FC 3-0 Olympiacos FC
13/08/08, UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first leg

Vassilis Torosidis's own goal (4) and Łukasz Sosin's strike (17) had Olympiacos on the run, before Vincent Laban (85) made it 3-0 late on as Anorthosis took a giant leap toward becoming the first Cypriot team to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition. They lost the return leg 1-0 in Piraeus, but 4,000 fans came to greet them and celebrate their achievement when they returned to Larnaca Airport.

"We are living a dream," said defender Andreas Konstantinou. Coach Temuri Ketsbaia, however, knew it was effort and not luck that had taken his side through. "For a team from a nation as small as Cyprus and with a budget as small as ours to get into the Champions League is an absolute dream," the Georgian said. "But dreams need work."

The high-water mark
APOEL 1-0 Olympique Lyonnais (aet, APOEL win 4-3 on pens)
07/03/12, UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg

APOEL had already staked a claim to a significant piece of local history by making it through the group stage, yet better was to come as Gustavo Manduca (9) cancelled out Lyon's 1-0 first-leg lead in Nicosia, setting up Dionisios Chiotis to be the hero of perhaps the greatest night in Cypriot footballing history – saving penalties from Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos in the shoot-out.

"We've achieved something no one would have thought possible at the start of the season," the goalkeeper said. "Things are getting serious now. We need to wait to see who else gets into the quarter-finals, but there isn't one team we would prefer to play – just let's avoid Barcelona." As it happened, they landed Real Madrid CF in the quarter-finals and lost 8-2 on aggregate.

©AFP/Getty Images

Success overseas
Legia Warszawa 0-1 Apollon Limassol FC
03/10/13, UEFA Europa League group stage

A less eye-catching victory but a significant one regardless. Argentinian forward Gaston Sangoy notched the only goal in what was the first away win for a Cypriot club in a UEFA competition group stage, recovering after missing a penalty for Christakis Christoforou's men. It was another step up for local sides who had traditionally relied on their home form to propel them to European glory.

"This night was a dream come true for us and for everyone at Apollon," said captain Giorgos Merkis. "These are magical moments. We secured a massive win because we believed we could do it." A sentiment, perhaps, that says much about the spirit of Cypriot teams in Europe.

Last updated: 05/08/14 17.07CET

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