Apoel defy the odds to reach Europa League last-16 (video)

Apoel are through to the last 16 of the Europa League after a heroic 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in Nicosia, overturning the 3-2 deficit from the first leg.

A late goal at San Mames seven days prior gave the Cypriots genuine hope of reaching the next round, and two quickfire second-half strikes from Pieros Sotiriou and Giannis Gianniotas completed the job on another memorable European night for the club.

Apoel needed to win the game at all costs but it was Athletic who started the brighter of the two, controlling possession in the midfield and looking the more dangerous threat early on.

The hosts had the first good effort of the game as Efrem tested the gloves of Iraizoz with a rasping effort but Athletic sprang a quick counter-attack which almost saw Inaki Williams strike beyond Waterman.

Athletic were in again when De Marcos’ through ball was latched onto by the lightning-quick Williams and his attempt was heading for the corner had it not been for Waterman’s outstretched heal.

The Basques were dominating possession and managed to limit Apoel to very little in the first half, but as was the case in the first leg, Thomas Christiansen’s side knew they had to take their chances when they arrived.

And that they did, to devastating effect. Within ten second-half minutes, Apoel raced to a 2-0 lead. The first came through a fantastic volleyed finish on the move from Sotiriou after some excellent wing-play from Efrem.

The second followed minutes later as Gianniotas got in behind Balenziaga before being felled by the full-back in the box. The Greek international, who scored that precious goal in the last minute at San Mames, picked himself up to score the subsequent spot-kick.

Despite those two quick goals giving them a great deal of comfort, Apoel’s resolve was put to the test from the 64th minute, as Sotiriou was shown his second yellow card for a high challenge, leaving the hosts with ten men for the last part of the game.

Athletic piled on the pressure, raining crosses into the Apoel area but one after the other was stubbornly refused by the yellow wall in front of Waterman.

Iturraspe’s cynical body check on Vander saw Athletic also finish with ten men but it was all trivial by that point as the Cypriots sealed their spot in the last 16 of the Europa League for the first time in their history.

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