|Club Brugge||Shakhtar Donetsk|
AEK Athens 1-0 APOEL Nicosia FC (AEK win 4-2 on aggregate)
Costa Rican international defender Mauricio Wright’s second-half header ensured AEK Athens reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League tonight for the first time in eight years after a 1-0 win against APOEL Nicosia FC.
AEK should have won more comfortably but poor finishing meant that, despite dominating for long periods, they missed a succession of chances. Striker Sotiris Konstantinidis was particularly at fault, dallying in possession and failing to shoot when he only had the goalkeeper to beat. Thodoris Zagorakis was also in a good position after an indirect free-kick inside the box, but his shot was deflected wide.
Change of tactics
AEK coach Dusko Bajevic had packed the midfield to preserve the 3-2 score line from the first leg in Cyprus but was more positive in the second half, playing Ilija Ivic and Demis Nikolaidis together up front. The tactic paid off as the pair combined to force the 58th minute corner from which Wright converted the decisive header.
The goal forced a fightback from the Cypriots, who at no stage looked disheartened and Stavros Georgiou unleashed a wicked shot that cannoned off the post on 75 minutes.
'Achieved our objective'
Bajevic was pragmatic in his assessment. “We achieved our objective, which was qualification for the Champions League and I’m grateful to the fans for coming to support us," he said. "It was a tough game and not of the highest quality but we got what we wanted. AEK are the most experienced team in Greece and as the competition goes on, we’ll pick up rhythm.”
Goalscorer Wright, meanwhile, looked forward to the competition proper. “It was a difficult game but now we’re anxious to discover the side we’ll face next,” he said.
APOEL coach Gerard Egen, who coached AEK in 2001, was far from despondent. "The fact that three out of four of their goals over the two legs came from dead ball situations shows we were not outplayed," he said.
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