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Gustavo Manduca's tale of the unexpected

Gustavo Manduca has hung up his boots aged 34; UEFA.com's John Leonidou recalls the Brazilian steering APOEL FC towards the most celebrated win in Cypriot history.

Gustavo Manduca after scoring his famous goal for APOEL against Lyon
Gustavo Manduca after scoring his famous goal for APOEL against Lyon ©AFP/Getty Images

7 March 2012 is considered by many the greatest night in Cypriot football history, and for good reason. It was the night APOEL FC eliminated Olympique Lyonnais on penalties to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals – an extraordinary feat for a Cypriot side.

The recently retired Gustavo Manduca, who scored the only goal in Nicosia to overturn a 1-0 round of 16 first-leg deficit and force spot kicks, has no doubt about the size of APOEL's achievement "If I had to single out my greatest memory, it would have to be the game against Lyon and the goal I scored," the 34-year-old said. "That night was incredible as we achieved something nobody thought we could."

Nine minutes in at the GSP Stadium, Brazilian attacking midfielder Manduca put APOEL in front from close range after collecting a pass from skipper Constantinos Charalambides to level the aggregate score. With no further goals, the stage was set for goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis to stop efforts from Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos and secure a 4-3 shoot-out success which clinched APOEL's unprecedented journey from second qualifying round to quarter-finals.

APOEL were brilliantly supported at the GSP
APOEL were brilliantly supported at the GSP©AFP/Getty Images

That season APOEL made the unbelievable seem relatively commonplace. Having made it past Wisła Kraków in the play-offs, they beat FC Porto and FC Zenit at their ground on the outskirts of the island's capital Nicosia, with the highly charged atmosphere at the 23,000-seat arena helping Ivan Jovanović's men punch well above their weight.

Though they were no match for a Cristiano Ronaldo-powered Real Madrid CF in the last eight, just reaching that phase of the world's top club competition was a stunning coup for a team whose most noteworthy previous European result had been a 16-1 defeat by Sporting Clube de Portugal in the 1963/64 European Cup Winners' Cup – still the heaviest loss in UEFA club competition history.

"We knew we needed to score to stay in the competition and scoring in the first ten minutes was really important – it was a gift from God," said Manduca, whose past employers included SL Benfica and AEK Athens FC. "A month and a half before the game, I had an operation on my groin and I didn't expect to be back so soon. God blessed me and I got the goal to keep us in the competition."

Whether the footballing gods will ever bless a Cypriot club quite so generously in the future remains a topic for discussion on the island. Whatever happens, though, APOEL fans – like Manduca – will always have their memories.

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