Omonia AC 0-0 FC Irtysh Pavlodar Kazakhstani champions impress on tournament debut in Cyprus.
Novikov on song
Omonia were on top throughout a warm evening in Nicosia, but a tidy-looking Irtysh side were good value for their clean sheet, helped by an impressive performance from goalkeeper Yuriy Novikov, who ensured his side still have every chance of progressing to a second qualifying round tie against Wisla Kraków of Poland.
Irtysh even created the first chance of the evening when Murat Tleshev forced Omonia's new Greek goalkeeper Nikolaos Michopoulos to make a save after eight minutes. Rainer Rauffmann, so often Omonia's danger man, then sent a long-range free-kick on goal in the 20th minute only for Novikov to block.
Defences hold firm
The home side continued to attack with Rauffmann, Jozef Kozlej and Georgos Theodotou all enjoying chances, but none of the trio could break the deadlock. Meanwhile, at the other end, Tleshev and his Russian strike partner Muslim Agayev both troubled the Cypriot defence. Nevertheless, the game reached half-time goalless.
That pattern continued after the break as Omonia picked up the pace, notably in the final 20 minutes, only to be frustrated by Novikov and his back-line. The Irtysh custodian denied Kozlej from close range while Rauffmann was also unable to make his mark. The home side's disappointment was compounded four minutes from time when Marco Haber was sent off.
After the final whistle, Omonia coach Toni Sayeyski said he still felt his side could go through despite not scoring at home. "I was pleased by the fact we did not concede a goal and that the side created chances, but we found we could not convert them into goals." he said. "I am confident of getting a result in Kazakhstan."
His opposite number, Dmitry Ogay, said: "Omonia proved a very hard side and forced us to defend deep. The odds for the return game are 50-50."