The north London side are looking to reach the group stage for the fourth season running, and late goals by Roberto Soldado and Harry Kane have them in the driving seat ahead of next week's return at White Hart Lane. However, their fellow Premier League side Hull City have work to do after losing 1-0 away to Belgian Cup holders Lokeren.
Tottenham's quest did not get off to the best of starts at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium in Larnaca. Spanish striker Adrian Sardinero opened the scoring in the 14th minute for AEL, who finished second in the Cypriot top flight last season and parachuted into the Europa League after losing to Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round.
Slack play in midfield by Paulinho created the chance for Sardinero to run through and beat Hugo Lloris, sparking wild celebrations from the home fans. Paulinho was one of those brought into the starting line-up by Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino as seven changes were made from Saturday's 1-0 win at West Ham United.
Questions have been asked about how seriously the new Spurs coach will take the Europa League, and his team looked second best for long spells. However, they were rescued in the final 20 minutes by another two players promoted to the starting line-up in the heat of the Mediterranean.
Kane saw a shot turned onto the woodwork by home goalkeeper Karim Fegrouch before Soldado got the equaliser in the 74th minute. This time Kane fed substitute Erik Lamela, whose terrific pass was emphatically hammered home by the Spanish striker. And Spurs completed the turnaround with ten minutes to go thanks to another piece of inspiration from Lamela and a finish from the 21-year-old Kane.
"I think it was a very tough game, because the conditions were difficult and the weather was difficult," Pochettino said, referring to a bobbly, cut-up pitch and high temperatures.
"I'm happy with the performance. In the end 2-1 for us is an important result," added Pochettino, who was also delighted with the influence off the bench of his fellow Argentinian Lamela.
"We need him to look forward, believe in his skill and condition and work very, very hard. With confidence and time he will show his value.
Hull slip on the road, Berg scores four
Hull are appearing in Europe for the first time but their manager Steve Bruce made it clear where his priorities lie as he made nine changes to the team that won at Queens Park Rangers on the opening day of the English Premier League season.
Defender James Chester and goalkeeper Allan McGregor kept their places, but the latter was guilty of a mistake that gifted the only goal of the game at the Daknamstadion to Hans Vanaken just before the hour mark.
The Scottish international somehow managed to pass the ball straight to his opponent, and Vanaken rounded the Tigers' stopper before rolling the ball into an empty net. Yannick Sagbo and David Meyler both squandered openings for Hull, who face a tricky test in the second leg if they are to make it to the group phase.
Among the other winners on the night were Spanish sides Villarreal and Real Sociedad, Borussia Monchengladbach and PSV Eindhoven, who all joined Inter Milan, 3-0 victors away to Stjarnan of Iceland on Wednesday. However, French duo Lyon and Saint-Etienne face uphill struggles to progress after being beaten by Romanian and Turkish opposition respectively.
The individual performance of the evening came from Swedish international forward Marcus Berg, who scored all four goals for Panathinaikos as they beat Mdtjylland of Denmark 4-1 in the Greek capital.