Nicosia (Cyprus), Dec 13 (IANS) Sevilla suffered their first loss of this season’s Europa League campaign, falling 0-1 to Cypriot club APOEL in a Group A match between teams that had already booked their place in the tournament’s knockout phase.
The match at the GSP stadium in Cyprus’ capital on Thursday was the final round-robin match for both teams in this season’s edition of Europe’s second-tier club competition, reports Efe news.
The LaLiga squad — winners of five Europa League titles between 2006 and 2016 — took the field without most of their regular starters in front of a crowd of just over 10,000 fans who witnessed a poorly played match that was decided over a four-minute span of the second half.
Both sides struggled to get their attacks going in a lackluster first half, with crosses into the area repeatedly failing to set up scoring chances.
Lucas Ocampos, one of the few Sevilla players on the field who has seen significant action this season, put a ball into the net before the break, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Little changed after the intermission with Sevilla unable to impose their superior skill on their Cypriot rival.
The Andalusian side had a golden chance when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Ocampos by Brazilian midfielder Alef dos Santos, but Israeli substitute Moanes Dabour’s shot from the 12-yard mark was stopped by goalie Vid Belec in the 57th minute.
Four minutes later, Vujadin Savic rose up and headed a corner kick by Uros Matic into the back of the net for the game’s only score, taking advantage of the passivity of Sevilla’s defenders and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
Dabour and two other substitutes, Oliver Torres and Jose Mena, tried to jumpstart Sevilla’s attack in the final stage of the match, but the visitors lacked the vision and coolheaded playmaking needed to score the equaliser and ended up stumbling to their first loss across all competitions since early October.
Despite the loss, Sevilla finished first in Group A with 15 points, while APOEL ended up in the second spot with 10 points after six round-robin matches.
In other action Thursday in Europe’s second-tier club competition, 2018-2019 Europa League runner-up Arsenal scored two late goals to earn a 2-2 draw and prevent Belgian club Standard Liege from qualifying for the tournament’s knockout stage.
The Premier League club had all but locked up a berth in the Europa League’s round of 32 and therefore left star forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench at the start of Thursday’s Group F match at Stade Maurice Dufrasne in Liege.
The English club only needed to avoid losing by a highly improbable five-goal margin to reach the knockout phase, and everything was going to plan when the score was 0-0 at the break.
The Gunners would have had the lead if not for some solid goaltending by keeper Arnaud Bodart, who made a double-save with time winding down to deny attempts by Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson.
But the Belgian side opened the scoring in the 47th minute on a lucky goal by Samuel Bastien that ricocheted off defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ arm and over the head of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and into the back of the net.
Standard then doubled their lead thanks to some more good fortune, with a shot by Selim Amallah bouncing off Arsenal defender Konstantinos Mavropanos and into the net in the 69th minute.
A win would have put the Belgian club in the knockout stage, considering that Eintracht Frankfurt lost 3-2 at home on Thursday to Portuguese club Vitoria de Guimaraes.
But Arsenal rallied with a pair of goals by Alexandre Lacazette and Saka in minutes 78 and 81, respectively.
Lacazette headed home a cross from Saka, while the English winger scored on a low shot from the edge of the box.
Arsenal (11 points) and Frankfurt (nine points) will move through to the tournament’s round of 32, while Standard (eight points) and Vitoria (five points) have been eliminated from the competition.