Brave Rovers out of Europe after extra-time thriller with Apollon

A stunning Aaron Greene strike wasn’t enough for the Hoops in Cyprus tonight.

Ethan Boyle is dejected after Rovers concede for a third time.
Ethan Boyle is dejected after Rovers concede for a third time.
Image: Chara Savvides/INPHO

Apollon Limassol 3

Shamrock Rovers 1

Shamrock Rovers lose 4-3 on aggregate 

IN SPITE OF their impressive resolve and spirit, Shamrock Rovers tonight exited the second qualifying round of the Europa League at the hands of Cypriot side Apollon Limassol. 

They were ultimately undone in extra-time, having seen their 2-1 first-leg lead mirrored by a 2-1 defeat in normal time tonight. They were outplayed for vast tracts of this game, and fell 2-0 behind only to claw their way back in a zany second-half minute. First the Apollon captain was sent off for tangling with Ronan Finn, and then Aaron Greene sent the game to extra-time with an outrageous long-range strike. 

Lee Grace, however, was sent off for a second bookable offence early in extra-time, and then Adrian Sardinero broke their hearts with a fine finish from a tight angle five minutes later. 

It was a nonetheless impressive showing from Rovers, against a side who reached beat Basel, Lazio and Marseille on their way to a third-placed finish in the group stages last season. 

Greg Bolger and Fotis Papoulis Greg Bolger and Fotis Papoulis in action on Thursday night. Source: Chara Savvides/INPHO

Apollon dominated the early stages and took the lead through Argentine striker Emilio Zelaya after 18 minutes. Fotis Papoulis stood up a cross to the back post, where Zelaya rose above Joey O’Brien to power a header beyond Alan Mannus. 

Rovers struggled to make an impact whatsoever in the first half, with the hosts hogging 75% of possession in the opening half-hour. 

They had Mannus to thank for reaching the break only a goal down; the goalkeeper doing very well to claw away a Sasa Markovic free-kick. 

Apollon finally doubled their lead on the 63-minute mark. Mannus again did well to bat away a Markovic strike from outside the box, but the ball broke kindly in the area for Attila Szalai, who lashed it into the net. 

This, however, was merely the first of five minutes of madness. Within three minutes, captain Papoulis – who scored a stunning volley in the fifth minute of the first leg of this tie – was given a red card for grabbing Ronan Finn by the throat.

Within a minute, Papoulis had no longer scored the best goal of the tie, either. Aaron Greene – starting up front in place of Dan Carr – picked up the ball 30 yards from goal, advanced in the absence of a defender’s challenge and rifled a shot into the top corner of the net from fully 25 yards. 

Despite their numerical superiority, Rovers occasionally lived dangerously as the game headed for extra-time. Ethan Boyle left a backpass short to which Mannus reacted superbly to avert disaster, while Roberto Lopes was forced into a heroic block on Zelaya. 

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Arguably the game’s most significant moment came four minutes into extra-time. Dan Carr sloppily lost possession in midfield, allowing Apollon to break. Lee Grace cynically bodychecked his marker to break up the attack, for which he received a second yellow card. 

Apollon exploited the resultant space ruthlessly, and they scored the decisive goal five minutes later -  Adrian Sardinero sterring a shot from a tight angle beyond Mannus’ grasp and into the bottom corner of the net. 

Exhausted by their opponents and the oppressive heat, Rovers struggled to create a chance that could improbably haul them into a third qualifying round clash with Austria Vienna. 

That prize is now Apollon’s, and Dundalk are Ireland’s sole remaining representative in Europe. 

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Gavin Cooney

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