Sergio Floccari’s brace gave Lazio a hard-fought 2-1 Europa League win over Apollon, but they almost had to regret wasted chances.
This result puts the Biancocelesti four points clear of the Cypriots in second place, while Trabzonspor won 2-0 at Legia Warsaw to consolidate their leadership status.
These sides drew 0-0 in Cyprus, but Swedish-Albanian goalkeeper Etrit Berisha was surprisingly given his Aquile debut. Bruno Pereirinha, Andre Dias, Senad Lulic, Lucas Biglia, Giuseppe Biava and Stefano Mauri were unavailable.
The Curva Nord was closed for this game after racist abuse, though before the appeal UEFA had ordered the entire stadium locked down.
Apollon were in great shape, having won their last six domestic games on the bounce. Keita Balde drilled wide of the near post and Sergio Floccari’s glancing header was also off target.
Keita created the opening goal for Floccari, dribbling past players down the left to pull back from the byline and the veteran centre-forward stuck out a foot to poke it into the far bottom corner from 12 yards. It was Floccari’s third Europa League goal of the season, but 18-year-old Keita deserved much of the credit.
There was a bizarre moment when Gaston Sangoy’s powerful shot hit the side-netting and pulled it away from the goalposts, so play had to be stopped in order to fix the gap.
Hernanes aimed from distance and stung the gloves of goalkeeper Bruno Vale, while Floccari’s angled drive flashed across the face of goal to skim the back post from another Keita assist.
Floccari doubled both his tally and Lazio’s lead with a splendid twisting header from a Keita corner, as it went in off the inside of the far post. It was his second brace of the campaign after a 3-3 draw away to Trabzonspor.
However, Apollon and their 1,500 visiting fans lifted their heads moments later with a goal. Lorik Cana and Michael Ciani failed to intercept a simple Sangoy through ball and Fotis Papoulis smashed his angled drive across Berisha.
Antonio Candreva’s fierce free kick whistled just over the bar in first half stoppages. Lazio somehow failed to score three minutes after the break, as a Hernanes free kick was palmed into the path of Keita, who slipped to scuff the tap-in from six yards. Not only did Keita not find the net, but he also took the ball away from teammate Ederson.
Moments later Keita burst past a defender down the left and pulled back for Floccari, who ballooned over as he came sliding in to waste another glorious opportunity.
Lazio risked regretting all those missed chances, as Berisha needed a crucial one-handed save from point-blank range after Papoulis pounced on a Diego Novaretti error. Candreva’s header back to Berisha put the goalkeeper under a lot of pressure, as the hosts were clinging on to their lead at the end despite dominating the first half.
Lazio 2-1 Apollon
Scorers: Floccari 14, 37 (L), Papoulis 39 (A)
Lazio: Berisha; Konko (Novaretti 68), Cana, Ciani, Cavanda; Onazi, Hernanes, Keita (Perea 83); Candreva, Floccari, Ederson (Ledesma 76)
Apollon: Bruno Vale; Stylianou, Merkis, Karipidis, Vasiliou; Sangoy, Hamdani, Gullon (Konstantinou 86), Papoulis (Haber 92); Meriem, Roberto
Ref: Madden (SCO)