AEK, Apollon and AEL sit in the driver’s seat of their respective second leg Europa League second round ties on Thursday night.
The Cypriot trio each picked up valuable wins last week, which means that they are strong favourites to enter the next round, though there is no room for complacency.
Apollon are in the most comfortable position of all, after racing to a 3-0 lead in their first leg match against FC Zaria. The Limassol club now travel to Moldova to wrap up the two-legged affair, though Apollon press officer Fanourios Konstantinou was not keen on just winding down the clock.
“We must be serious in the return leg in order to win and seal the tie,” he said. “We are Apollon, we are going there to win and to be prepared for the third round”.
As confirmed by Konstantinou himself, Apollon will be without captain Fotis Papoulis, experienced midfielder Constantinos Makrides and defender Angelis Angeli. Adrian Sardinero is with the squad but unlikely to feature with lack of fitness an issue.
AEL may have expected an easier ride in the first leg at FC Progres Niedercorn, but were forced to fight for a 0-1 win courtesy of Mikel Arruabarrena’s second-half strike. The Limassol side will feel much more comfortable playing in front of their own supporters in the second leg, albeit at the Antonis Papadopoulos in Larnaca.
Bruno Baltazar’s side cannot get too confident however, as they will be well aware that the club from Luxembourg pulled off one of the shocks of the previous round when they defeated Scottish giants Rangers 2-0 in the second leg to overturn the tie.
Also with a narrow win were AEK Larnaca, with arguably the most impressive result of the three Cypriot sides. Playing away at Cork City in front of over 6,000 fans, in an intimidating atmosphere, Imanol Idiakez’s side grinded out a 0-1 victory, with Joan Truyols grabbing the only goal of the game 20 minutes from time.
Cork City striker Seanie Maguire still believes his side has a good chance of turning things around, despite the fact that they trail the tie: “We’re very confident going out there,” said the Irishman who played the full 90 minutes of the first game: “We’ve seen their strengths and weaknesses and we won’t fear them”.
Playing at their new stadium, AEK fans are expected to turn up in great numbers to back their side through to the third round, and they have happy memories of their last home European game, which ended in a 5-0 win over Lincold Red Imps.
Apollon and AEK both kick off at 8.00pm Cyprus time, while AEL’s game against Progress starts an hour later.