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Omonia win Cyprus cup beating Ethnikos Achnas on penalties

Omonia’s Redemption, Achna’s Missed Opportunity
Although it might have seemed like a typical early summer Wednesday bright and sunny at a humid 28 degrees Celsius in the capital, today was anything but that for Omonia and Ethnikos Achnas fans as they formed a tidal wave of mostly green and Cypriot flags on the A1 highway en route to the Cyprus Cup Final.
The road to the GSP Stadium, however bumpy, ended up providing Omonia with a literal silver lining to an otherwise forgettable campaign – another trophy to its impressive collection – and a very important berth to the Europa League, a not-so-bad consolation prize that can be used to attract top talent in what will be an inevitably busy transfer window this summer. Omonia finished 7th in the league, matching their worst performance since their inaugural year during the 1953-54 season.
Achnas fans, who arrived with similar pain and sorrow from an underwhelming league campaign, were left with nothing tangible to celebrate – missing out on European football and an opportunity to win its first trophy in Cyprus. As a refugee club from the occupied village of Achna, of course one intangible that Achnas fans surely celebrated tonight was playing in a cup final, a moment that will be cherished and remembered for generations to come. But the reality of the club’s outlook for the upcoming 2022-2023 season is dim. Next year will see Achnas playing from the 2nd division as they finished in the relegation zone 2nd from the bottom, just above bottom-feeders PAEEK. Inevitable player departures who will want to stay playing in the top flight will include Marios Elia, the Cyprus national, further adding to Achnas woes. Elia, who for reasons no one can understand, didn’t start the match and managed to only get on the pitch in the 102nd minute after subbing in for Michal Duris, who got the start ahead of him. The Cypriot had an immediate impact in attack which was lacking creativity and purpose, but it was too little too late for the team in blue.
Playing at its home stadium in front of 17,095 people with about 90% wearing green shirts, Omonia lifted the trophy after a 120 of minutes of goalless football ended up in a nail-biting penalty shootout. Achnas started off by missing the first penalty, but Omonia followed suit levelling the score back to even. Achnas was then first to miss again, but Omonia couldn’t capitalize by missing one of their own. With the penalties going into sudden death, both teams relied on Cypriot youngsters. Achnas’ Adoni Zacharias (22 years old) converted from the spot followed by Omonia’s Loizos Loizou (18 years old) who followed suit. Next up was Achnas’ Marios Peratikos (22 years old) who showed his nerves with a poorly paced and placed penalty into the arms of Fabiano who fell softly to his right to corral the ball.
The weight of the GSP Stadium then fell on the shoulders of Charalambos Charalambous (20 years old) to convert from the spot. The young Omonia midfielder shot a confident penalty sending the ball into the back of the net and the GSP Stadium into an absolute frenzy.
Omonia came into the match a heavy favorite, but was left with 10 players from the 6th minute after the Italian head referee Marco Di Bello went to the VAR to deem a foul at the edge of the box as worthy of a straight red. The early red card left Omonia to struggle much of the match, but Achna lacked the quality to capitalize on the situation. Achnas’ best chance came in the 92nd minute when a cross taken from a free kick by Kostas Pileas flew into the box missing all the players and taking a high bounce straight into the crossbar, before being cleared by an Omonia defender. Although one can objectively say Achnas played better, “O Laos” (Omonia fans) won’t care as the stadium lit red flares and fireworks to celebrate a historic night.
As fans stormed the field to celebrate with welcoming players swinging their shirts, Omonia Head Coach Neil Lennon had to walk a bit longer to join in on the festivities after being banished to the locker room prior to the penalty shootout. Although Lennon might not have been on the pitch with his players during the shootout, they were there for him when he emerged from the tunnel to celebrate the historic victory. After a scuffle with the head referee just before the final whistle at 120 minutes saw Lennon get a yellow card, he was quickly given a second yellow plus red card by the Italian referee for his aggressive and sarcastic clapping. The Italian referee was not shy to brandish his cards tonight, 12 times in fact if you count the Omonia bench which also saw an assistant coach get a booking. 10 times the card shown was yellow and the other 2 times it was red.
The last time Omonia lifted the cup was back in the 2011-2012 campaign, again at GSP Stadium, when they beat AEL 1-0 with a 16th minute goal from André Alves. Omonia’s previous Cup final was a loss to Apollon Limassol 2-1 during the 2015-2016 season.
Ethnikos Achnas has never won the Cypriot Cup. The appearance today marks their second time in a Cypriot Cup Final – the last time was back in 2002 when they were defeated again at GSP Stadium this time by Anorthosis 1-0 after an 84th minute goal from Kyriacos Chailis.

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