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Astana make history as Maksimović stuns APOEL

APOEL 1-1 Astana (agg: 1-2)
Astana have become the first Kazakh club to make the group stage after Nemanja Maksimović struck late on to eliminate APOEL.

Astana make history as Maksimović stuns APOEL
Astana make history as Maksimović stuns APOEL ©Getty Images
  • Semir Štilić levels tie with second-half opener
  • Nemanja Maksimović hits 84th-minute equaliser to secure progress
  • Astana first Kazakh club to make the group stage
  • Blue and Yellows first side from Kazakhstan to win UEFA play-off tie
  • Group stage draw in Monaco on Thursday at 17.45CET

Nemanja Maksimović conjured a dramatic equaliser six minutes from time in Cyprus as Astana became the first team from Kazakhstan to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage with a 2-1 aggregate victory against APOEL.

Maksimović combined with Astana's first-leg hero to level on the night as the Serbian tapped in from close range a pinpoint right-wing cross by Baurzhan Dzholchiyev to seal a historic play-off triumph for Stanimir Stoilov's men.

The home side – looking to maintain their 100% success rate in the play-offs – took command from the off but could only muster a single effort on target in the opening 20 minutes. Indeed, it was the visitors who squandered the best opportunity when Foxi Kéthévoama pounced on a defensive error, the forward unable to capitalise.

©Getty Images

Having failed to register in their last three European away fixtures, Astana almost ended that sequence against the run of play on 35 minutes. Dzholchiyev drifted inside from the right before home custodian Boy Waterman blocked his left-footed attempt. Moments later, the Cypriot champions rattled the woodwork: Semir Štilić burst into the area and found Luís Leal in front of goal, only for Nenad Erić to make a fantastic stop with his right hand onto the far post.

Backs-to-the-wall defending was required by the Kazakh tournament debutants after the break, as Domingos Paciência's men stepped up their efforts to restore parity in the tie. Tomás De Vincenti wasted a glorious chance – nodding wide a right-wing centre from Mário Sérgio – before the Thrylos made the breakthrough via Semir Štilić's superb free-kick from distance.

The opener paved the way for a more gung-ho approach to the encounter as these two rivals proceeded to trade shots. De Vincenti almost rifled in the second after the Blue and Yellows were unable to clear an APOEL corner before substitute Junior Kabananga dragged wide at the other end with only Waterman to beat. Then Maksimović intervened with the all-important equaliser in the 84th minute after fine work by Dzholchiyev to leave the hosts heartbroken and out of the competition.

©Getty Images

Stanimir Stoilov, Astana coach
This is a very big win for Astana and for all football fans in Kazakhstan. We are all celebrating and there is a feeling of great joy. I have to be first to congratulate my players on this great achievement as well as our fans, my coaching staff and everyone associated with the club. This achievement caps a great effort by my players. We will try our best in the group stage and I think we can get some points. But it will be difficult. We will enjoy the experience and we are certainly looking forward to it.

Domingos Paciência, APOEL coach
We had a lot of chances but when you cannot score and you concede, a result like this happens. We played against a defensive team and we didn't take our opportunities. I cannot fault my players, they did their best. Disappointment like this occurs when you don't take your chances. I knew how important reaching the Champions League was to this club. We had a bad 20 minutes and that was enough to see us exit the Champions League. Astana play a simple game but they managed to score against us home and away.