FC København took solace in a 1-0 home win against a defensive APOEL FC in their play-off opener, with coach Ståle Solbakken joking: "It's hard when there are 22 players in the same half."
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FC København took solace in a 1-0 home win against a defence-minded APOEL FC in their play-off opener, with coach Ståle Solbakken joking: "It's hard when there are 22 players in the same half".
'We got better'
Zdeněk Pospěch scored the only goal nine minutes into the second half to give the Danish champions a slender lead to take to Cyprus next week, and Solbakken admitted he had hoped for more. "We were unable to open up their defence in the first half," said the Norwegian. "It's hard to explain the many mistakes we made in the first 45 minutes, but we got better along the way.
Raising their game
"It is hard, when there are 22 players in the same half," he added. "I am happy with the result and the fact we kept a clean sheet, but we should have punished them more when the game opened up in the second half. However, we are definitely closer to qualifying than we were before the game. I hope we can lift ourselves one, two or three notches and be stronger, better and fitter."
Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson was similarly consoled by the result. "It was important that we kept the clean sheet, and in general, I think we did our job," he concluded. "We were up against a well-organised side who hung very well together as a team. They were hard to break down, so we didn't manage to create as many scoring opportunities as we would have liked."
Ailton Almeida crashed a shot against the post to add to København's frustrations, but goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen was also called on to deny APOEL an equaliser, saving Nuno Morais's shot late on. The keeper said: "We tried to play quickly, we put pressure on them and we hoped to get more chances than we did. Now we have to hope they will come forward more in Cyprus."
APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic, meanwhile, believes his side has the "heart and soul" needed to overturn the 1-0 deficit. APOEL will be without Altin Haxhi for the second leg after he was sent off in the final minute, but will welcome the return of defender Joost Broerse and midfielder Savvas Poursaitidis from suspension, and Jovanovic is expecting big things from his side in front of a full house on a hot and humid evening in Nicosia. "Our target remains the same," he said. "The return leg will not be easy but our fans can be assured we will give absolutely everything. With heart, soul and belief we can qualify.
"Our biggest problem was not being able to keep more of the ball, especially in midfield which is why our attacks were limited," he added. "We still have the second leg to look forward to so we have time to fix certain areas of our game. I believe we will be a different and much stronger side in Nicosia. With our friends and supporters behind us, we can do it."