As Aris Thessaloniki were sent crashing out of the UEFA Cup by Croatian side NK Slaven Koprivnica, Cypriot outfit AC Omonia completed a Greek tragedy in Europe this week, beating AEK Athens 3-2 on aggregate in their UEFA Cup 2nd Round Qualifier, after a 2-2 draw at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia.A landmark week for Cypriot football is complete. The result means that Omonia could now progress through to the group stages of the UEFA Cup, becoming Cyprus’ second representative in Europe this season, following the historic exploits of Anorthosis Famagusta in the UEFA Champions League barely twenty-four hours ago.
AEK, meanwhile, became the third Greek team to lose a qualification tie in Europe this week and the second club to be eliminated from European competition entirely.
The aggregate loss to Omonia completes what has been a tumultuous week for AEK, who after a difficult season were rocked by the sudden announcement that president Themistoklis Nikolaidis would be leaving the club at the end of this season. Only a few days later, it was confirmed that Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo had been released from the club, after the World Cup-winner had only spent one season with the Dikefalos Aetos.
Despite losing the former Barcelona star, new AEK manager Giorgios Donis received a massive boost ahead of the Omonia clash when he was able to name high profile summer signings Angelos Basinas and Sotiris Kyrgiakos in his squad to travel to Cyprus.
The Greece internationals played no part in their new side’s 1-0 first-leg loss in Athens two weeks ago but were both handed their competitive debuts for the club.
It was a horror start for the duo however, as the Cypriot side took the lead after just 11’ minutes of play. Rwanda international Hamad Ndikumana – who had indirectly set-up his side’s crucial away goal in Greece – was again the creator.
Afforded space on the right-hand flank, the 29-year-old squared the ball across the edge of the penalty box where it bounced through to Clayton. The Brazilian striker flicked the ball delicately away from Angelos Basinas and with the Greece captain unable to clear, Albania international Klodian Duro produced a superb first-time strike from just inside the box that flew past goalkeeper Saja.
Despite the early set-back, Donis’ side responded in perfect fashion just five minutes later. Angelos Basinas made up for his defensive short-comings when he delivered a superb free-kick into the penalty box from the right. Argentine striker Ismael Blanco – who endured something of a goal-scoring drought during pre-season – shrugged off his marker to head the ball into the far corner of the net with goalkeeper Giorgallidis statuesque.
AEK’s hopes of overturning the first-leg deficit were dealt a massive blow however, when on 58’ minutes Argentine Nacho Scocco – who arrived in the summer from UNAM Pumas – was shown a second yellow card for simulation by German referee Thorsten Kinhöfer.
The dismissal of Scocco was compounded just twelve minutes later, as Dura grabbed his second goal of the evening. The ball was worked well to the Albanian after a flowing move by Omonia and the midfielder produced another superb strike, this time from outside the penalty box, which again beat AEK ‘keeper Saja low to his left.
The Greeks would not lie down, however, and ensured a tense finish to the match, as Ismael Blanco did well to control a long ball in the penalty area before laying it off to Greece U21s striker Michalis Pavlis. From outside the box, the 18-year-old substitute produced a stunning first-time strike which flew past a helpless Giorgallidis and into the top corner.
Any suggestions of a dramatic late winner were dashed entirely in the second minute of injury time though, as Spanish full-back Juanfran lost the ball to former AEK striker Ioannis Okkas on the left touch-line. The former Real Zaragoza man then tripped up the Cypriot international as he was about to race towards goal, with the German referee deeming the act to be a professional foul and consequently producing a straight red card.
It was an ending that perhaps epitomized what has been an altogether volatile pre-season for AEK, which has reached its most dramatic stage with the announced exits of two of the most high-profile members of the club in Nikolaidis and Rivaldo during the past week.
Meanwhile, AC Omonia can deservedly celebrate their contribution to what has been another landmark week for Cypriot football.
AC Omonia 2 (Duro 11’, 70’)
AEK Athens 2 (Blanco 16’, Pavlis 89’)
AC Omonia: Giorgallidis, Ndikumana, Pletsch, Wenzel, Charalambous, Christofi (66’ Okkas), Kaseke, Zlogar, Clayton (77’ Aloneftis), Duro, Cafu
AEK Athens: Saja, Edson Ramos Silva, Majstorovic, Kyrgiakos, Juanfran, Kafes (75’ Lagos), Rikka (75’ Zorbas), Basinas, Edinho (79’ Pavlis), Scocco, Blanco