Omonia FC’s ten-year absence from the lucrative Champions League ended on Wednesday night after defeating Armenian side Ararat 1-0 in the capital Yerevan in the first qualifying round.
The Nicosia Greens scraped through to the second qualifying round of the Champions League thanks to a goal by Tiago in the fourth minute of extra time in a victory that earned them €280,000.
Omonia hopes to find its way to the tournament group stage worth around €17-20 mln.
The last time Omonia played a CL game was back in August 2010 when the club was knocked out of the competition by Austria’s Salzburg FC in the third qualifying round.
On the pitch in the Armenian capital, both teams more concerned about keeping a clean sheet as the qualifying games are decided in a single match due to changes imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, and last year’s competition is still underway.
It took almost half an hour for a worthwhile chance when Ararat’s French attacker Gouffran’s goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by a defender.
Omonia’s keeper Fabiano was called to block Lopes’ dangerous strike, just minute later.
Two minutes before the break Ararat had another chance to take the lead but Oubanjo’s clever backheel went the wrong side of the post.
Omonia’s only chance of the opening half came in the 43rd minute after Ararat goalkeeper Cupic took too long to clear the ball and was charged down by rookie striker Kakoulis with the ball going the wrong side of the upright.
The Cypriot team took charge of the second half as they had the lion’s share of possession.
Still, Omonia was unable to create a goal-worthy chance with Michal Duris wasting the one good effort when his close-range shot was not strong enough to beat the goalkeeper.
Omonia became a bit more aggressive with French winger Eric Bautheac came on in the last 20 minutes.
However, the game went into extra time with Omonia managing to break the deadlock in the 94th minute after Tiago raced through unchallenged to score the winner following a pass from Bautheac.
A few minutes later Ararat was left with 10 men after midfielder Humanes received his marching orders after picking up his second yellow card, which should have made things easier, but another shot was cleared off the line a few minutes later.
After going through, Omonia will now face Legia Warsaw next Wednesday in Poland.
The Greens will need to improve considerably, to have a fighting chance against a team with bags of experience in Europe.
Meanwhile, Omonia’s campaign to defend their unofficial ‘champions’ title in the league begins on Saturday away to Pafos FC.
Last year’s top-flight football season abruptly ended on 15 March with 45 fixtures to be played for the championship and five for the cup.
Omonia Nicosia topped the table at the time but was not declared champions after a truncated season. They were awarded the Champions League spot instead.