Apoel Nicosia 0-3 Real Madrid: as it happened

Apoel Nicosia held out for 74 minutes before conceding three late goals to an impressive Madrid side

Preamble: So is this the night that Apoel finally crumble? Or can they shatter the Champions League's cosy big club equilibrium again? Few believe the Cypriots have a chance against Real Madrid; Apoel are 12-1 to win tonight's first leg and 22-1 to reach the semi-finals. But we've been here before: Apoel have been underdogs in seven of their eight Champions League group and knockout matches this season, only to defy the odds time and again. Madrid, of course, operate in a different stratosphere to the likes of Porto, Zenit and Lyon. Their financial and footballing might should tell. But you never know ...


Apoel Nicosia (9-0-1, all right then, 4-4-1-1): Dionisis Chiotis, Paulo Jorge, William Boaventura, Marcelo de Oliveira, Konstantinos Charalambides, Helio Pinto, Nektarious Alexandrou, Savvas Poursaitidis, Nuno Morais, Ivan Trickovski, Aílton

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1) Iker Casillas, Pepe, Fábio Coentrão, Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Arbeloa, Mesut Özil, Nuri Sahin, Sami Khedira, Gonzalo Higuaín, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo

7.30pm For those wanting to find out more about Apoel, and their Serbian manager Ivan Jovanovic I'd highly recommend Jonathan Wilson's excellent piece on Ivan Jovanovic in the Guardian today. The following paragraphs are particularly revealing ...

Much is also down to his management. Jovanovic is religious and superstitious, but his success is mainly down to hard work. His devotion to football is almost monastic. His wife and two sons live in Thessaloniki, leaving him alone in Cyprus to focus on management. His attention to detail is staggering, fuelled by cigarettes, coffee and Coke.

For instance, the referee for the second leg against Lyon was the Spaniard Undiano Mallenco. Jovanovic watched every game Mallenco had officiated in La Liga this season so he could learn his habits and instruct his players accordingly. When the last-16 tie against Lyon went to penalties, Jovanovic's goalkeeping coach, Goran Gumic, had – of course – studied every Lyon penalty for the last three years and was able to advise the goalkeeper Dionisis Chiotis which way to dive. Only with the first taker, Kim Kallstrom, did Chiotis go the wrong way.

"We showed everyone that we are a team capable of defending and attacking with the same efficiency and unity," Jovanovic says. "We base our playing style on constant pressing and when attacking, trying to utilise every free area in the field. In every game, apart from the last one of the group stage, we covered around 6km more during the 90 minutes than our opponents."

It's easy to depict Apoel as a club reincarnation of Otto Rehhagel's Greece: well-organised, energetic, a bit dull. But while there's certainly a ring of truth to that, anyone who saw their thrilling come-from-behind win against Zenit in the opening group stage game - where they had 13 shots - shows they have fire as well as the ability to frustrate.

7.35pm: An email. "A question for you and your readers," says Richard Amnetts. "What's your favourite underdog club side ever?" Tricky one off the top of my head Richard. Er, Chesterfield's FA Cup run in 1999? Or perhaps Calais's extraordinary romp to the French Cup final in 1999/2000?

7.43pm: The players enter the field. Cue floodlights, cameras, and - very shortly - action.

1 min: We're off!

2 min Apoel get their foot on the ball early, and ping together some swift passes. But their attack comes to a swift end when Aílton is judged - harshly - to have impeded Casillas. Still, an encouraging start from the Cypriots.

4 min A lovely pass from - I think - Khedira finds Ronaldo in the box, but his backheel bobbles forlornly to an Apoel player. Incidentally, many had assumed that Apoel would be playing 4-4-1-1 but so far they are pushing two strikers up. Bet that doesn't last ...

6 min The game is still to settle down. It's very scratchy. "So what's your prediction for tonight's game, Sean?" asks Jamie Donald. Well I'm hardly going out on a limb by suggesting Real should win, but at the orices the goals market interests me more: without Xabi Alonso creating in central midfield I reckon it might be tight - so perhaps under 2.5 goals at odds against?

8 min Better from Madrid as Khedira, Ronaldo and Ozil thread it through Apoel's defensive web before the ball is played out to Benzema, who cuts in from the left before shooting it straight at Chiotis from 18 yards.

10m Awful news for Apoel as Oliveira is stretchered off after injuring his knee in what looks like a nothing challenge against Ronaldo. There's no time for a sub, so briefly it's 10 v 11.

11 min And Real very nearly take advantage! Paulo Jorge's defensive header lobs up to Ozil, 16 yards out level with the penalty spot. But his shot is pushed away by Chiotis. Apoel still only have 10 players ...

13 min Finally Apoel make their sub: Kaka on, Oliveira off.

15 min Another minute, another chance: Coentrao's cross, Higuain's header, but it goes over the bar. "You really should have Jimbo on your lap to help you with the inevitable (and, by now, tiresome) Apoel/apple puns," sighs Mike Wilner. "Me, I'm going in a different direction and will boldly predict that this is your classic banana skin game for Real. Ooooh, yes he did."

17 min [Minute-by-minute reporter puts on anorak] Possession stats: Apoel 28% Real Madrisd 72%. 72%!

19 min After a long punt the ball enters Real Madrid's half for the first time in 10 minutes. And then, inevitably, Real start attacking again ...

21 min Meanwhile Philippa Booth emails in with her favourite club underdog. "Right now, as a follower of Ligue 1 and resident of Montpellier, they have to be my favourites - if they can just hang on, they'll be playing in this competition next year and I can't wait... Go Apoel!" Anyone else?

23 min After a bright opening five minutes, Apoel have - unsurprisingly - parked a big bright yellow bus just outside their penalty box. Their full-backs are pushed in, their two central midfielders are entrenched in front of the back four. Ronaldo jinks from right to left before trying to stand a cross up at the back post, but Chiotis takes it easily.

26 min Better from Apoel, who win a corner after Aílton's fine run down the right is checked by the sliding right boot of Arbeloa. The short-corner routine comes to nothing - can Real counter?

27 min No, they can't. And so the game's rhythm reasserts itself: Real pressing, Apoel stifling. This could continue for a while.

29 min Save from Chiotis! From a steep angle on the right, Ronaldo lashes a shot that Apoel's keeper palms upwards before recovering to hold. "I always knew Dionisis Chiotis was worthy of his considerable Championship Manager reputation," says Danko from Philadelphia. Anyone else want to confess to having an Apoel player on their Championship Manager books?

31 min When yet another Madrid attack is interrupted and then punted away, I reckon there are eight Apoel players on or around the 18-yard box. All it needs now is fire, hot oil, some ramparts and a fair maiden to be a bona fide siege. Fortunately for Apoel Aílton, who has impressed so far tonight, traps the clearance expertly and holds off Madrid's defenders until he wins a free-kick.

33 min WHAT A MISS FROM BENZEMA! Finally Madrid's intricate play earns them space down the left, and the ball is slid across the the six-yard line where Benzema is waiting to gobble it up and open the scoring ... but somehow he scoops it over the bar.

35 min It's opening up now. Apoel have a rare foray forward but Real immediately counterattack and win a corner ...

36 min ... which comes to nothing. To give you some idea of Real's dominance, they have had 70 per cent possession and had 12 shots on goal compared to Apoel's big fat zero. It's a thrashing on the stats, but not yet on the scoreboard.

38 min "Can I be the first to congratulate you on 12 years at the Guardian Sports Desk?" says Simon Frank, cheerily preparing to plunge the knife into my front. "I see you're marking the occasion by slumming it on an MBM. Thanks for everything. And please bring back the Football Weekly Ingle jingle." Well, it was either me or no one tonight alas. And our producers have banned all the jingles!

40 min A lovely jinking left-foot-right-foot run by Aílton takes him past three tackles only to end when the ball meekly rolls out for a Real throw.

42 min Real press, Apoel defend. You know the drill by now. "My favourite underdog side was Wycombe Wanderers in the FA Cup 2000/2001," says Doug Johnson. "They beat Leicester City (then a Premier League side) 2-1 after Roy Essandoah scored the winner. I seem to recall he had only signed on a part time basis or something. True FA Cup magic. They ran Liverpool close in the next round as well. Either that or Leeds in THAT Champions League campaign." Actually, Leeds is a really good call. They've never got the credit they deserve for that run.

44 min JUST WIDE RONALDO! A fine run from Ozil down the right ends with a low cross to Ronaldo, who sweeps it past the far post.

HALF-TIME The whistles that have greeted almost every Real Madrid attack this half are replaced by claps and cheers as the referee blows up for half-time. Real really should be ahead, and the longer this goes the more frustrated you'll imagine they will get.

46 min We're off again! Meanwhile your favourite club underdogs continue to trickle in. "For an underdog, how about Gladbach?" suggests Richard Stirzaker. "Years of bumping around the lower reaches of the Bundesliga, they only avoided relegation in a playoff last year, and now they're rubbing shoulders at the top with Dortmund, Bayern and Schalke."

47 min Incidentally Apoel have made a sub: Nektarios Alexandrou has been replaced by the more attack-minded Helder Sousa.

48 min It's as you were: Real attacking, Apoel defending. When Benzema takes a long raking, take-me-please-and-cherish-me pass from Ramos in his stride, there's a brief scent that a dramatic finish is a possibility ... until Benzema slashes it over.

49 min Now Ronaldo tries a pot shot from 35 yards ... only to smash it over the bar. He glares downwards, as if to blame the pitch, but the grass remains impassive.

51 min "Congratulations also from me on your 12 years at the Guardian," says Ryan Dunne. "Glad it's being marked with some characteristic betting odds on the MBM." Ah. "Favourite underdogs: as a fan of the Glorious Glasgow Rangers, I might be open to accusations of bias, but surely Inverness Caledonian Thistle (surely one of the most charmingly diddy-team suggestive names ever) deserve a mention, not least as they gave the world the "Super Calley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious" headline (in the Sun, I daresay the super soaraway Guardian marked the even with a more highfalutin' headline)". Oh yes.

53 min Despite Higuain going down after been De Jonged in the ribs, Real continue to attack. Ronaldo weaves from left to right, like a kid joyously evading chasers while playing tag, before feeding Benzema, whose shot comes to nowt.

55 min As Real continue to attack, Doug Johnson is back with more on the Leeds side of 2001-02. "Leeds also had AC Milan AND Barcelona in their first group and managed to progress. They also beat Lazio at some point, who were the Italian champions as well. Then there's the demolition of Deportivo La Coruna." Very good points, Doug. At that point Leeds looked to be long-term title contenders, and David O'Leary looked every bit the modern enlightened football manager. Now look.

58 min A delay in play as Ivan Trickovski receives treatment. Apoel are still yet to have a shot on goal.

60 min Some wonderful close-control dukin' and dribblin' by Aílton allows him to slip past two Real Madrid players before he's chopped down near the corner flag. Alas the free-kick comes to nothing.

61 min Another illustrative stat: Apoel passes 94, Real Madrid 416. That said, apart from Benzema's shocking miss, Real haven't had that many chances ...

63 min "What's the odds on this being a 0-0 then Ingle?" asks Sam Collins. Around 13-8 Sam. Or 2.6 in new money.

64 min Jose Mourinho mixes it up by bringing on £60m worth of talent from the bench: Marcelo and Kaka on, Coentrao and Higuain (who still looks to be feeling that boot to the chest a few minutes ago) off.

66 min I wouldn't want to watch matches like this every week, but you have to hail Apoel's defensive resolve here. But it nearly broke there! Ronaldo's free-kick skidded across the penalty area, and Ozil twice had chances before it was hoiked clear.

69 min And so it continues: Apoel are still yet to have a shot on goal, and Real again waste a chance. This time Benzema hits the side-netting from 15 yards. Real have now had 17 shots on goal, but - tellingly - only three on target.

71 min "I don't watch Madrid play that often, but after watching that first-half miss from Benzema, I find it hard to believe the claims that he is a better finisher than Higuain," says Prateek Chadha. "In fact, on the evidence of that miss, you'd take the present day Torres over him as a clinical finisher." Steady, Prateek. It's wrong to judge a player on one game, although I agree he hasn't been great tonight.

73 min Apoel sub: Esteban Solari on, Helio Pinto off. Can the Cypriots hang on?

GOAL! Apoel 0-1 Madrid (Benzema 74) No they can't! And finally the deadlock is broken! Kaka's cross on the left is headed home from three yards by Benzema, who scores his 26th goal of the season. That was coming ...

76 min CHANCE FOR RONALDO! Ronaldo should have made it two after Benzema's pass found him free 10 yards out. But his shot was straight at Chiotis. It's all Madrid now (not that it hasn't been all game, but it's even more so now).

78 min Apoel finally string a few passes together but they're desperately tired. Can Real kill the tie off with a second?

80 min The Apoel fans are still singing away, aerobically thrusting their scarves up and down as they do so. Imagine Zulu with yellow scarves. Meanwhile Real continue to attack and Chiotis has to be quick off his line to smother a Benzema chance.

GOAL! Apoel 0-2 Real Madrid (Kaka 81) A lovely, lovely goal. Marcelo zips down the right, exchanges a one-two with Ronaldo, and - despite being fouled in the box - slips it back to Kaka, who slides it in from 10 yards. This could be three or four now.

85 min Real sub: Sahin off, Granero on.

86 min Although Apoel have been vanquished, their supporters remain in good voice. "Apoel the pride of Greece!" says Michael Michaelides. "Getting to the last eight was already like 2004 all over again, so we will be celebrating tonight with red wine and lots of dancing." Just as long as it's not Retsina, Michael ...

88 min Real continue to push forward, looking for a third. They've now had 22 shots to Apoel's zero.

89 min Kaka, who has been excellent since coming on, nearly finds Benzema for his second - only for Chiotis to palm his cross athletically away.

90 min: GOAL! Apoel 0-3 Real Madrid (Benzema 90) It was coming. Ronaldo has space, centrally, for perhaps the first time tonight and plays it wide to Ozil, whose exquisite outside-of-the-foot cross allows Benzema an easy tap in.

FULL TIME: Apoel 0-3 Real Madrid Peep! Peep! The two minutes of injury time passes without incident before referee Felix Brych blows up. The Cypriots are applauded off the pitch after an energetic defensive effort. But Madrid's squad was too strong and the 3-0 victory didn't flatter them. Thanks for all your emails, sorry that I didn't use them all. Best, Sean

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