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APOEL recovery leaves Zenit reeling

APOEL FC 2-1 FC Zenit St Petersburg
A goal down, Manduca and Aílton struck in quick succession in the second half as the Cypriot club gained their first group stage victory.

APOEL recovery leaves Zenit reeling
APOEL recovery leaves Zenit reeling ©UEFA.com

Two goals in as many second half-minutes earned APOEL FC their maiden UEFA Champions League victory as the Cypriot side came from a goal down to defeat FC Zenit St Petersburg.

The Group G points seemed destined for the visitors when Konstantin Zyryanov broke the deadlock on 63 minutes with Zenit's first shot on target. However, the game turned on its head a short while later, the Brazilian pairing of Manduca and Aílton scoring in quick succession for Ivan Jovanovič's side, who are competing at this level for only the second time.

The vocal home supporters unveiled a mural paying tribute to Christos Kontis, the APOEL player forced to retire after suffering a heart attack last month, before kick-off. If the defender's sprits were raised by that gesture, he will have been similarly encouraged not only by his former team's comeback but also their start as APOEL knocked the ball about confidently early on.

That did not result in an opening until the midway point of the first period, though, when Aílton, slipped in by Manduca, was foiled by Vyacheslav Malafeev. Danny was central to the Russian league leaders' best effort of the half a minute before the break. Dribbling in from the left, the playmaker delayed his pass until Roman Shirokov had broken into the area, from where the midfielder dragged a shot wide of Dionisios Chiotis's right-hand post.

If chances were slow to arise before the break, the same could not be said after the restart as APOEL were quickly out of the blocks. Malafeev needed to be at his sharpest to keep out Ivan Tričkovski's effort following a give-and-go with the lively Aílton.

The opener arrived out of nowhere just after the hour, with Danny the instigator. Breaking from midfield, the Portuguese international pierced the APOEL defence with a pass which Zyryanov tucked inside the near post. The lead did not last, however, though it owed much to good fortune, Tričkovski breaking down the right and teeing up Hélio Pinto, whose scuffed effort fell perfectly for Manduca.

From a goal down APOEL were ahead moments later when Aílton found himself all alone down the Zenit right, advanced into the area and placed a shot across Malafeev. A miserable three-minute spell for the visitors was completed when Bruno Alves was dismissed for a challenge on the match-winner. Zenit knew it was not going to be their night when substitute Viktor Fayzulin hit the inside of a post and Aleksandr Bukharov flashed a shot narrowly wide with time ebbing away.