Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC edged nearer to a place in the UEFA Europa League knockout stage with a tense goalless draw away to APOEL FC.
Last time out in this competition the Israeli champions put four past an Eintracht Frankfurt outfit who tonight sealed top spot in Group F, but defending was the watchword in Nicosia. The first shot on target did not arrive until the 67th minute and though both teams went close neither could find a way through. Maccabi, in second, will advance with a point at home to FC Girondins de Bordeaux in a fortnight.
There was nothing between the sides in a claustrophobic first hour, with both defensive lines working hard to deprive their opponents of space. Orange and blue went two by two, any hint of attacking intent summarily muffled by a blanket defence. Only Barak Itzhaki threatened to break the resistance, rewarding Tal Ben Haim's fine cross with a half-volley he could not keep down.
Itzhaki it was whose 95th-minute penalty had been saved when these clubs drew 0-0 on matchday one, and perhaps spurred by a wish to make amends he endeavoured to prise openings. He so nearly did on 62 minutes, meeting a free-kick with a brilliant scissor-kick across goal that was just too high for Rade Prica. The game opened up and midway through the second period we even had a shot on target, a low drive from APOEL substitute Esmaël Gonçalves.
Ben Haim caused even greater panic in the Cypriot team's rearguard, sending a low strike towards the bottom corner that Urko Pardo superbly turned past the post. Maccabi menaced, and though they were denied they are on the brink of the last 32. Third-ranked APOEL must beat Frankfurt and hope Bordeaux do them a favour.