Cyprus champions APOEL FC scraped through and shared a point in Group F in the opening round of the Europa League after a goalless draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv who were playing in front of a record home crowd.
The other Cypriot side, Apollon Apollon FC, lost several scoring opportunities in Nicosia’s GSP and went down 2-1 to Trabzonspor AS in Group J.
Apoel’s Urko Pardo saved Barak Itzhaki’s 95th-minute penalty when the Israeli substitute was presented with a gilt-edge chance in the last seconds of the game. He hit the ball cleanly enough from the spot, but Pardo, alert all evening, guessed right to push the ball past the post, according to a post on uefa.org.
It was the rarest of chances on what was a sultry evening in the most southerly outpost in this season's UEFA Europa League. Neither side was able to get a handle on proceedings, with passes going astray and touches as heavy as the atmosphere at Bloomfield Stadium.
It took 30 minutes before a chance in anger was created, in fact, Pardo scrambling off his line and falling at Dor Mikha's feet after the midfielder had been released by an exchange of passes between Rade Prica and Zahavi. Both teams stepped it up after the restart, Tal Ben Haim putting on the afterburners a couple of times as he danced in from the wing, but the telling final ball was always missing.
Constantinos Charalambides threatened on the break, firing straight at goalkeeper Juan Pablo, yet APOEL were increasingly pegged back into their own half as Maccabi searched for the breakthrough. Ben Haim almost fashioned it 14 minutes from time after a block fell to him on the edge of the box, but Pardo, again, was quickly on to him. That looked as close as either side would come before the grandstand finale.
Trabzonspor snatched a late winner at Apollon as substitute Yusuf Erdogan got the decisive goal in the 86th minute to give Mustafa Akcay's side a perfect start to life in Group J.
Group stage debutants Apollon seemed to be set fair when Gaston Sangoy converted a penalty 18 minutes in, but their lead was short-lived as Florent Malouda swiftly equalised. After that, it increasingly appeared as if a draw was on the cards – until Yusuf glided through and slotted in the late winner to leave Trabzonspor level with SS Lazio, who travel to Turkey on matchday two.
It was the hosts who threatened first when Marcos Gullón drove Guie Gneki Abraham's reverse pass over the bar, and they forged ahead on 18 minutes as Sangoy smashed his spot kick down the middle after Souleymane Bamba had brought down Abraham.
The lead lasted just two minutes, though, as Olcan Adın's perfect cross from the right was guided past Bruno Vale by the head of Malouda. The equaliser promptly ushered in a phase of Trabzonspor dominance, yet they failed to create a serious opportunity and Abraham was able to twice go close on the break.
Adrian Mierzejewski then had a free-kick deflected wide for the visitors ahead of the interval, before Malouda drove Paulo Henrique's shot over after the restart. Georgos Merkis had a great chance to restore the home lead but failed to tuck his attempt inside the post when connecting with a Gullón free-kick, and the decisive moment came when Mierzejewski slipped in Yusuf, who guided a first-time finish past the goalkeeper.
In the other Group F clash, Eintracht Frankfurt trounced Bordeaux 3-0 and face APOEL on home ground at Nicosia’s GSP on October 3, while the French side will host Maccabi.
In Group J, Italian legend Lazio beat Legia Warsaw 1-0 and will face Trabzonspor in Turkey, while Apollon play away to the Polish side.
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