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APOEL success the stuff of legend in Cyprus

Following a night of honking horns, flag-waving fans and talk of "the greatest Cypriot team ever", Nicosia woke up to the improbable truth of APOEL FC's progress to the last 16.

APOEL success the stuff of legend in Cyprus
APOEL success the stuff of legend in Cyprus ©UEFA.com

A noted local pundit called APOEL FC "the greatest Cypriot team ever" as the island's football fans took to the streets to celebrate Ivan Jovanović's side's progress to the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

Cyprus came to a standstill yesterday evening while APOEL's Group G game at FC Zenit St Petersburg was televised, and after the club earned the 0-0 draw needed to guarantee a top-two finish in the section, the streets of Nicosia teemed with flag-waving fans. Former APOEL player Costas Fasouliotis, now a leading commentator, shared a nation's enthusiasm. "In my opinion, this is the greatest Cypriot team ever," he said. "I believe they have what it takes to go beyond the round of 16, provided they finish top of the group."

The honking of car horns provided a deafening soundtrack to a night of pure joy across the country, with traffic virtually coming to a halt outside APOEL's headquarters as hundreds of supporters gathered to mark what seemed an impossible achievement. Meanwhile, television coverage of the UEFA Champions League highlights show was interrupted as officials at Larnaca airport announced a change of procedure to allow for throngs of fans to greet the squad as they landed in the early hours of this morning.

"Due to growing reports that many supporters will arrive at the airport to welcome the team back, we would like to announce that APOEL and their delegation will exit the airport via a special gate situated next to the control tower," said airport spokesman Adamos Aspris. "This is for safety reasons so we can give fans the chance to celebrate their side's arrival without interrupting airport operations."

When the late-night revellers finally took to their beds, a relief force was soon in operation with huge numbers of Cypriot children heading to school today wearing APOEL scarves and with playgrounds alive with talk of the club's astonishing success.

The newspapers have kept the flame burning. Over a picture of captain Constantinos Charalambides embracing team-mate Marios Ilia, sports daily Goal splashed the headline: "Living a dream!" Goal wrote: "The architect of this great triumph, Ivan Jovanović, described this achievement as 'something fantastic' and added, 'We may be a small team in Europe but we have a big heart and are deservedly in the last 16.'"

With Cyprus's economy closely linked with that of neighbouring Greece, the main news in recent months has been gloomy, so SportDay was happy for the opportunity to celebrate. "Forget about getting an EU bailout," it beamed. "Here the Legend [APOEL's nickname] is king!" The more serious Politis newspaper was emblazoned with a picture of the APOEL players over the simple words: "Thank you!"