APOEL earns first UCL points of the season with 1-1 draw vs. Ajax
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A first-half penalty earned APOEL Nicosia an entertaining 1-1 draw against Ajax in Group F of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Ajax opened the scoring in the 28th minute through Danish forward Lucas Andersen, only for APOEL's Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Manduca to level from the penalty spot three minutes later.
The draw extended Ajax's winless away streak in the Champions League to eight games and gave the Cypriot team its first point in this season's competition.
Ajax lies third in the group with two points, trailing Barcelona with three and PSG with four.
Ajax coach Frank De Boer said his team deserved the win and criticized referee Milorad Mazic for APOEL's penalty award.
"You come to 1-0 and then you get a cheap goal against you, so it was very disappointing for us," De Boer said.
"I told the players after the game that if we play like this against everybody, then everybody will have a difficult match against Ajax."
APOEL coach Giorgos Donis said: "There's no justice in soccer, it's just who scores more goals."
The former Panathinaikos player said APOEL employed long balls in attack to unsettle an Ajax side who he claimed has trouble with this style of play, with the Dutch team pressing high up the pitch and leaving space in its own half.
"Even though it is not our usual style of play, we wanted to use long balls against them," Donis said.
Ajax got off to a strong start and created a series of early chances. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson nearly opened the scoring just two minutes in when he shot narrowly wide after connecting with Lasse Schone's cross.
Davy Klaassen missed a chance seven minutes later when he failed to latch on to Sigthorsson's lofted pass across the APOEL goalmouth.
Andersen finally broke the deadlock, slotting home the rebound after APOEL goalkeeper Urko Pardo had parried a close-range effort from Schone.
However, Manduca soon equalized with the spotkick after Ajax defender Ricardo van Rhijn was judged to have handled inside the box when Stathis Aloneftis tried to lift the ball over him.
The goal gave APOEL a lift and the hosts missed a clear chance to pull ahead two minutes before halftime when Cillian Sheridan came close to steering a Manduca cross into the Ajax net.
Both teams created chances in the second half in the end-to-end action. Pardo saved Schone's low shot in the 52nd, while Sheridan headed just wide moments later after meeting a cross from Stathis Aloneftis.
A diving save by Ajax goalkeeper Jasper Ceillessen denied Mario Sergio with a long-range effort in the 70th — that was followed by a speedy Ajax counterattack in which Sigthorsson shook off two APOEL defenders before volleying a shot straight at Pardo.
In the end, APOEL was fortunate to escape with the draw after Thulani Serero's shot from outside the box flew just wide of the post in injury time.