Cyprus celebrates after APOEL upset the odds

Cyprus was celebrating on Thursday after little APOEL Nicosia achieved mission impossible by qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

APOEL became the first Cypriot team to reach the last eight when they beat Olympique Lyon 4-3 on penalties on Wednesday after the tie had finished 1-1 on aggregate.

"I feel joy and relief," goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis told "We've achieved something no one would have thought possible at the start of the season."

Footballing jubilation came as a welcome respite from the daily grind of the economic downturn in the country and the seemingly never-ending talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots over a deal on reunification of the island.

"David once beat Goliath so you can imagine how an APOEL supporter feels today about this string of victories over Goliath for the past six months," said Mayor of Nicosia Constantinos Yiorgajis.

Cyprus, a minnow in European football terms, burst into celebrations as thousands of APOEL supporters poured on to the streets of Nicosia after the nail-biting triumph.

APOEL scored all four of their spot-kicks with aplomb but their hero was Chiotis who saved penalties from Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos to send the crowd into raptures.

Gustavo Manduca, sent off in extra-time for a second booking, had netted in the ninth minute to earn APOEL a 1-0 victory in the second leg.


"That was an amazing night - it will live in our memories for many years," said midfielder Manduca.

"We've made history for this country and we're proud of that. We want to enjoy this moment."

APOEL have won five of their seven home games in this season's competition, losing only to Shakhtar Donetsk, and Manduca said the fans had played a massive part in the campaign.

"The crowd showed us again what they are about, they're just amazing," he said. "They give us so much help we feel like we have more players on our side."

Manduca will be suspended for the first leg of the quarter-finals and he is clear about the teams APOEL want to avoid in next week's draw.

"I don't want Barcelona. No one wants them, or Real Madrid," he said.

"Every team is bigger than us and has more history than us but we'll enjoy the games and we'll continue to dream - why not?"

Fellow midfielder Nuno Morais said APOEL's great team ethic carried them over the line.

"We knew we had only one chance," he said. "We didn't know if we would get another opportunity to get through so we had to give everything.

"We've made a great effort in every game and we have a fantastic team in which everybody helps each other. We deserve to be here."