THE new football season gets under way this weekend, with defending champions APOEL favourites to retain the title for the fifth consecutive year.
Much improved Apollon and consistent AEK will pose the biggest threat to the capital’s title holder, while a question mark hangs over Omonia who have yet to show us their true colours. Anorthosis are expected to have another indifferent season, while the dark horse for a top place are AEL with Pambos Christodoulou back in charge for his second stint as coach of the Limassol side.
The likely candidates for the drop also happen to be the teams that won the promotion, with two of the three, AEZ Zakakiou and Karmiotissa, also complete strangers to the top division. It was five years since the third club, Anagennisi Dherynias, last played for a season in the top flight.
For the first time, there will be five teams from the Limassol district with the traditional trio of Apollon, AEL and Aris joined by newcomers Zakaki and Karmiotissa.
However, this has created a pitch problem as the home grounds of both newcomers are not up to Cyprus Football Association (CFA) standards and cannot be used for official games.
With the three ‘traditional’ Limassol clubs already sharing a common home ground, the Tsirion stadium, AEK and Karmiotissa had to seek their ‘home’ grounds elsewhere.
AEZ opted for the Ammochostos stadium, home of Nea Salamina, while Karmiotissa have gone for AEK’s brand new stadium, The Arena, both of which are located in Larnaca.
The fixtures for the first round of the football season is as follows:
Saturday, August 20: Omonia vs Ermis 18.00*, Nea Salamina vs Apollon 20.00
Sunday, August 21: AEZ vs Ethnikos Achnas 19.00, AEL vs An. Dherynias (20.00)
Monday, August 22: Aris vs Karmiotissa 19.00
*to be played behind closed doors as Omonia is serving a home ban from last season
The two other games for the first round (Anorthosis vs APOEL and AEK vs Doxa Katokopias) have been postponed for a later date due to APOEL’s and Aek’s obligations in European qualifying games.
The Cyprus Mail preview of the 2016-17 season (2015-2016 league position):
AEK Larnaca (2nd)
For the past two seasons, AEK finished second and despite losing their head coach (Thomas Christiansen) to APOEL, they impressed during their European qualifiers and are more than capable of going one better.
They should also benefit from the fact that they will be playing in their own brand-new, 8,000 capacity stadium, The Arena, that should be ready for their first home game.
Spaniard Imanol Idiakez is AEK’s new coach, while there have also been a number of changes in the playing staff with 12 players leaving and six coming on board, the most notable ones being APOEL’s former captain Constantinos Charalambides and Spaniards Javier Garrido and Acorán.
AEL Limassol (7th)
Last season was a major disappointment for AEL as they failed to make the top six and thus unable to challenge for a European finish.
In the second half of last season, AEL brought back Pambos Christodoulou, the coach who led them to their first championship in 2012 after 44 years.
Christodoulou, well known for his astuteness in the transfer market, brought in no fewer than 16 new players, with the same number leaving the Limassol club. The signing that brought a huge cheer from the AEL fans was that of the towering defender Dossa Junior, the player that captained their championship winning team of 2012.
AEZ Zakakiou (Promoted)
This is the first time that AEZ will be playing in the top flight and their goal should be their first division survival.
The current president of AEZ, Stelios Christou, was also one of the founding members of the club back in 1956. He is the longest serving president (since 1986) in the top flight.
AEZ supporters will be watching a totally new team, assembled with the sole aim of avoiding relegation. Seventeen players have been brought in with ten heading the other way. The majority of new players were snatched from teams that were relegated from the top flight last season. However, a lot will depend on their most experienced players, Garbozis and Krassas, who played in the top flight for a number of years.
Anagennisis Dherynias (Promoted)
Anagennisis gained their promotion on the very last day of the season. They finished level on points with Olympiakos Nicosia, but had a better head-to-head record.
This is the second time that they will be playing in the first division and will be hoping to do better than the last time (2011) by avoiding an immediate return to the second division.
They have signed two players from APOEL – Anastasiou and Christodoulou – while two more were brought in from Greece, namely Furtado and Natsiopoulos. In total, eight players left and 11 joined the club.
Anorthosis Famagusta (5th)
Anorthosis had one of their worst seasons last year with plenty of problems both on and off the pitch. In all, 26 players have left the club during the summer with just half that number joining.
New coach Antonio Puche has had to build his team from scratch and he will have to find a new leader to replace his former captain, Cypriot Constantinos Laifis, who transferred to Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus.
It is expected that it will be another tough year for Anorthosis.
The Nicosia team will be favourites to retain the championship for the fifth consecutive year.
It will be a tall order for their new coach, Thomas Christiansen, who wants to impose his own philosophy on the team.
The Champions have not been very busy in the transfer market, with ‘only’ six players added to the roster and double that number leaving. Their most recent transfers have failed to impress, but the biggest worry for all at APOEL is finding an able replacement for the charismatic de Vincenti who was transferred to Dubai-based Al Shabab.
Apollon Limassol (3rd)
Apollon, last year’s Cup winners, have been impressive in all their official games so far. They were desperately unlucky against French team St Etienne when they conceded two late goals to bow out of Europe. However, they bounced back immediately defeating APOEL in the Super Cup with relative ease.
Coach Pedro Emmanuel has done a stirling job at the Limassol club assembling a group of quality players in da Silva, Maglica, Sachetti, and with the recent additions of Czech striker Piech, Spanish midfielder Miguel Bedoya and French defender Valentin Roberge they have the depth required for a championship winning team, something that was missing last year.
Aris Limassol (10th)
Aris has also been very busy in the transfer market with almost 30 players involved. Their new coach, 48 year old Thalis Theodoridis from Greece, has brought in 16 players, six of whom have arrived from Greek teams.
Of the 13 players leaving, they will sorely miss powerful forwards Mathew Boniface and Antonis Ranos.
Doxa Katokopias (9th)
Over the years, Doxa managed to unearth quality players who after a season or so are sold on to the bigger clubs in Cyprus for a handsome profit.
This year, however, they have gone for experienced players who had previously played in other Cypriot teams, like Tiago Gomes, Carles Coto, Albert Serran, Carlos Marques and Marios Poutziouris.
Their Cypriot coach, Loucas Hadjiloucas, likes his team to play attacking attractive football, whether they are playing against a ‘small’ team or one of the bigger teams on the island.
They will sorely miss winger Carlitos, however, who was transferred to APOEL (and then onto Anorthosis) and the talented Diego Leon, who was shipped off to Qatari club Al Mesaimeer.
Ermis Aradippou (8th)
Ermis will be looking to bounce back from a rather difficult last season where they were even toying with relegation at one point.
Coach Nicos Panayiotou has been shrewd in the transfer market, bringing in tough tackling midfielders Irakli Maisuradze from Anorthosis and Pim Bowman from Paralimni, while up front he has gone for skillful forward de Melo, formerly of Paphos FC.
A lot is also expected from one of their most recent signings, that of Brazilian forward Muller Fernandes.
Ethnikos Achnas (11th)
Ethnikos managed to stay afloat last season by avoiding defeat against Paphos FC in the very last game.
Serbian coach Danilo Donĉić will be in charge for a second season and he hopes that the 13 new players coming on board will help Ethnikos stay well away from the danger zone. Last season’s ‘star’ signings, Elguja Grigalashvili and De Vries, have been shown the door.
As with the other newly-promoted team AEZ, Karmiotissa have been very busy in the transfer market trying to assemble a team capable of staying in the top flight.
Seventeen players have been brought in, a mix of experienced heads (Taralides, Kairinios, Vattis, Ordoś) and youngsters like Saliakas, Voskanyan and Dragojevic, who will be out to prove themselves.
Nea Salamina (6th)
Nea Salamina was one of the pleasant surprises of last season, finishing the normal season in sixth place and going as far as the quarter finals in the Cup.
Injuries and exhaustion saw them tail off towards the end of the season and Romanian coach Eugen Neagoe will be hoping that key players who have been brought in during the summer transfer period, like Bebe, Kolokoudias and Maachi, remain free of injuries.
The Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of Cyprus football!
Greek former footballer Nikos Dabizas and former Newcastle coach John Carver were brought in as football director and head coach, respectively, to try and change the fortunes of the sleeping giant of Cyprus football.
They got off to a poor start after they were knocked out of Europe in the second qualifying round by Beitar Jerusalem.
Both have come under a lot of stick from the demanding Omonia fans and need to sort out their porous backline if they are to challenge for glory this year.