Nicolae Stanciu scored the only goal of the game as Anderlecht took control of their Europa League Last 16 first leg tie with a slender 1-0 win at APOEL on Thursday evening.
APOEL unbeaten run comes to an end
Before tonight, APOEL had not lost in 19 home games across all competitions, but it was the visitors that started brightly at the GSP Stadium. And Stanciu finished a well-worked move in the 29th minute that proved to be enough for Rene Weiler's men to take a potentially crucial lead and away goal back to Brussels for next week's return tie.
The hosts, who closed their domestic regular season with victory over Nicosia rivals Omonia on Saturday, may have headed into the match in fine form but the absence of 22-goal top scorer Pieros Sotiriou through suspension left them light in attack.
Consequently, APOEL failed to find a way through the Anderlecht defence and now have it all to do in the second leg, where they now must record just a second away European win of the campaign to reach the last eight, a task made harder after captain Nuno Morais picked up a first-half booking that rules him out of the return leg.
Noisy atmosphere in Nicosia
A raucous crowd greeted the teams, with a giant banner promising Anderlecht that Nicosia is "where your dreams become nightmares", but the visitors settled quickly and had the first sight of goal as Lukasz Teodorczyk shot tamely under pressure from Iñaki Astiz. Bram Nuytinck was required to make a crucial block from Igor de Camargo at the other end, but an opener soon arrived for Anderlecht.
Leander Dendoncker took possession from captain Sofiane Hanni on the left and cut inside towards Stanciu, who prodded the ball on to Alexandru Chipciu before sweeping a return pass into the bottom corner.
APOEL initially responded positively, but Nuno Morais was flagged offside as his header was brilliantly tipped against the post by Rubén Martínez and the same man collected a costly yellow card for a challenge on Stanciu. After a lull, Anderlecht renewed their earlier attacking intent at the beginning of the second half as Chipciu stung the palms of Boy Waterman with a low drive.
The home support simply turned the noise levels up again, though, and only further brave interventions in the Anderlecht defence kept De Camargo at bay. APOEL's best chance yet arrived at the feet of David Barral with just over 20 minutes remaining, as Rubén clawed Roberto Lago's cross away from the top corner, but he sliced his finish horribly wide of the target.
De Camargo nodded over from Lago's left-wing cross and Barral forced a low save from Rubén with a deflected strike towards his near post, with the keeper then saving from Kostakis Artymatas' volley. Rubén was finally beaten with Vander Vieira's hopeful deep free-kick from near the half-way line, but the crossbar came to his rescue.
Frank Acheampong almost stole a second goal as he shot straight at Waterman from the subsequent counter-attack, but Anderlecht settled for a slim one-goal lead.