Tonight’s encounter was the ultimate David versus Goliath proposition with APOEL Nicosia battling hard but eventually tiring to lose 0-3 to nine times European champions Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants were good value for their 0-3 victory in the end, though it looked for some time during the second-half as though the home side was going to hold on for yet another famous result at the GSP Stadium in this Champions League quarter-final, first leg tie.
The numbers said it all. APOEL’s budget for the entire season is €9million whilst Madrid’s comparative figure is €490million! APOEL’s record signing cost the club €700,000 whilst Real’s record signing is of course the world record £80million (€94million) they paid Manchester United for the services of Cristiano Ronaldo!
Whilst APOEL were penned into their own final third for most of the opening 45 minutes (Real had 70% of possession); the Cpriot champions defended manfully and in an organised manner, throughout.
Benzema had a glorious chance for the Spanish La Liga champions elect just after the half-hour mark. A lovely ball from the lively Portugal international winger Fabio Coentrão was played across the APOEL goalmouth which found the Frenchman unmarked four yards out from goal but somehow Benzema managed to blaze the ball over the crossbar when it seemed easier to score. Aside from that; APOEL held their own and there were no further real clear cut chances before the short whistle.
The one way traffic continued in the second half, though the wayward finishing also continued with both Benzema and Ronaldo firing wildly wide during the opening five minutes after the re-start.
Just after the hour mark; Marcelo and Kaka replaced Coentrão and Higuain respectively as José Mourinho made a bid to liven up his attack.
With home bodies tiring; Madrid eventually took the lead on 74 minutes. A fine run and teasing cross from substitute Kaká was played into the path of Benzema and he had the simple task of heading home unmarked from five yards out. APOEL 0-1 Real Madrid
The busy Cypriot goalkeeping hero Chiotis then made another fine save after a lovely flick from Marcelo, but the custodian was quickly out of his goal to prevent Benzema scoring.
A brilliant flick from Ronaldo on the left wing found Marcelo who went on a 25 yard run before finding the by-line and squaring for fellow sub Kaká who couldn’t miss from eight yards out. APOEL 0-2 Real Madrid
A last minute tap-in for Benzema saw the visitors go three goals up and the tie was now slipping away from the home side. APOEL 0-3 Real Madrid
The home crowd cheered on their team right until the final whistle. It seemed as if their requests for Cypriot Real Madrid fans to stay away was heeded as the 20,000 plus sell-out crowd were a credit to their team who were always going to find it a difficult proposition to hold out for 90 minutes with only 30% of possession against a side of the quality of Madrid’s.
APOEL Nicosia won’t be judged on the outcome of this tie with Real Madrid, who have now effectively qualified for the semi-finals of the Champions League. The real story of this season will be remembered for the heroics of the Cypriots having beaten Zenit and 2004 champions Porto to top their group; the Cypriots progressed to eliminate seven times French champions Lyon and they and their fans have been a wonderful addition to the competition.