Olympique Lyonnais labored against a resolute APOEL before a second-half goal from the lively Alexandre Lacazette earned them a 1-0 home win in their Champions League last-16 first leg on Tuesday.
France under-21 striker Lacazette netted his maiden Champions League goal in the 58th minute as Lyon, who only made this stage for the ninth straight time after a 7-1 thrashing of Dinamo Zagreb, gained a victory they just about deserved.
APOEL, the first Cypriot team to reach the last-16, having topped a group featuring FC Zenit of St Petersburg, Russia, Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine, and Portuguese club Porto, had little to show for themselves offensively as they waited for the perfect counterattack that never materialized.
“We expected this kind of game, but I wish we had been more efficient. I now hope we will not regret it after the second leg,” Lyon coach Remi Garde, whose side lost 2-1 at home to lowly Caen on Saturday, told France’s Canal+ TV. “They were supposed to have chances on counterattacks and they did not get any, it’s because we also defended well.”
Lyon, who will travel to Cyprus for the second leg on March 7, could have gone ahead early on, but were denied a possible penalty in the third minute after Ederson appeared to have been brought down by goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis in the box.
The hosts piled on the pressure thereafter, but APOEL held on thanks to their stout defense.
Lacazette dribbled past two defenders on the half-hour mark, but fired wide with only Chiotis left to beat.
The forward had another chance five minutes before the break, but his fierce shot was clawed away by Chiotis.
The second half started like the first one ended, with Lyon pushing hard for the opener.
Ederson dribbled past Chiotis, slotted the ball toward the empty net only for Paulo Jorge to clear off his line.
Lacazette finally broke the deadlock when his curled shot took a deflection off an APOEL defender into the far top corner.
“I was asked by the coach and my partners to take my responsibilities and to try a lot of things, that’s what I did,” said the goal-scorer, one of a bunch of youngsters being blooded this term by Garde.
Jimmy Briand, who replaced Lacazette right after his goal, sent over a perfect cross, but Ederson’s header went just wide as Lyon missed out a golden opportunity to double the tally.
APOEL had their only chance with two minutes left, but France keeper Hugo Lloris tipped an Esteban Solari attempt over the bar with his only actual save of the night.
The Cypriot club have been the surprise packages of the competition this year having been ranked outsiders, but their strong defense will have to be combined with more of an attacking threat in Nicosia if their fairy tale can continue.