By Nemanja Bjedov
APOEL have been handed a second crack at this season’s Europa League after taking the place of banned Turkish side Fenerbahce after the ‘lucky losers’ draw in Monaco on Friday morning.
The draw was conducted after the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed Fenerbahce’s appeal against their two-year exclusion for match-fixing after a widespread investigation which rocked Turkish football.
Fenerbahce would have dropped into the Europa League after losing their Champions League play-off with Arsenal, but APOEL, who lost their two-legged tie 3-2 to Zulte Waregem, will take part instead.
Following their reinstatement APOEL have found themselves in an interesting-looking Group F with matches against Bordeaux, Eintracht Frankfurt and Maccabi Tel-Aviv coming up.
The second Cypriot representative, Apollon Limassol, were drawn from the fourth pot into Group J and they will face Lazio, Trabzonspor of Turkey and Legia Warsaw.
APOEL captain Nektarios Alexandrou told the Cyprus Mail that he and his team-mates had just finished training when they were informed of their good luck.
“We couldn’t believe it. There was a small explosion of joy, in contrast to the feeling of disappointment on Thursday. The good news took a while to sink in,” he said.
On APOEL’s chances of qualifying from the group, Alexandrou said: “I believe we have a chance, but a lot depends on form and our results at home in Nicosia.
“We have been written off in the past but managed to prove people wrong.”
Britain’s three representatives meanwhile will all face trips to Russia following the draw.
Tottenham, among the top seeds, will face Anzhi Makhachkala plus Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova and Tromso in Norway – 200 miles north of the Arctic circle and where the sun barely shines in winter.
Wigan will go to Rubin Kazan, Maribor of Slovenia and Zulte Waregem in Belgium while Swansea have a tough-looking group featuring Spanish side Valencia, Russian side Kuban Krasnodar and St Gallen of Switzerland.
The concern for all the clubs will be the length of the journeys and how it fits in with their domestic league matches.
Spurs at least should not have to travel to Makhachkala, home city of one-time big spenders Anzhi who have shed many of their star players in recent months in a drastic cost-cutting exercise.
Trouble with armed dissidents means that their home matches in Europe have been played in Moscow rather than at Anzhi’s home stadium on the Caspian Sea.
Swansea have arguably the toughest opponents of all in Valencia, but with seven Spaniards in the squad – and manager Michael Laudrup having been in charge of La Liga side Getafe before taking over at the Liberty Stadium – they will have some inside information.
Wigan chief executive Jonathan Jackson said the Latics will enjoy their first European adventure.
He said: “Playing in Europe is about experiencing new places and going to new clubs and it’s something we are really looking forward to.
“It’s a group where we can certainly compete and we won’t take anyone likely but we have every chance.”