APOEL were eliminated from the Champions League in heartbreaking fashion after a late equaliser from FC Copenhagen in Nicosia on Wednesday night sent the Danes through to the group stage.
Thomas Christiansen’s side had managed to cancel out Copenhagen’s 1-0 lead from the first leg through Pieros Sotiriou on 70 minutes, but Federico Santander’s 86th minute strike sees the Cypriot champions knocked out at the same stage of the competition as last year.
An expectant crowd turned up in an attempt to push their side to victory, but it was the visitors who looked more at home as they dominated the early exchanges.
Copenhagen went close after just nine minutes, as Santander headed on a lofted ball to strike partner Andreas Cornelius who connected well with his left foot which needed to be deflected wide by Boy Waterman in the APOEL goal.
Six minutes before the break, defender Erik Johansson peeled off his marker to win a header at the near post but Waterman again reacted well to tip over the bar.
Just as in the first period, it was the visitors who started the second half brighter, as Cornelius got in front of Nektarios Alexandrou at the far post but guided his header wide.
Vander’s introduction on the hour mark seemed to give the Cypriots a much-needed boost. And despite not showing any attacking threat throughout the game, APOEL got the breakthrough they perhaps did not deserve after 70 minutes.
Sotiriou showed more determination than Johansson to set himself up for a one-on-one chance, before striking the ball low and hard through keeper Olsen’s legs to level the tie.
But just as the game looked to be heading to extra time, Copenhagen would exact revenge for the 2009 meeting between the two. A scramble in the area saw the ball fall at the feet of Santander who shaped up to cross, tempting Waterman to leave his line early, which left space at the near post for his strike to find the unguarded net.
And although APOEL scored three in injury time against Rosenborg in the previous round, there would be no such heroics this time. The Cypriots’ continental campaign is not over however, as they will continue in the group stage of the Europa League.