After seeing off F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg in the previous round, a tougher challenge awaits Apoel in the third round of Champions League qualifying as they take on FC Viitorul Constanta.
As champions of Romania, Viitorul go straight into the third round and, in front of their own supporters, will prove a serious test to Apoel, despite some recent disappointing results.
For Apoel, this is their seventh season in the Champions League qualifiers out of the last ten, reaching the group stages on three occasions, while also making the Europa League groups the same number of times.
For Viitorul however, this is their first ever Champions League adventure, as a reward for winning their first major trophy in the club’s history, and they were Europe’s youngest domestic champions last campaign.
Mario Been’s Apoel side saw off Dudelange 2-0 on aggregate in their previous tie, recording wins in each game by the minimum scoreline.
Unfortunately for Apoel, their task in Romania is made no easier by the growing number of injury concerns going into the crucial game. Zhivko Milanov picked up a knock against Dudelange which saw him substituted on the hour mark and faces a race against time to make Wednesday’s match.
While the Bulgarian will be on the plane for the squad’s trip, one man who definitely will not be is striker Mickael Pote, as he suffered a muscle strain during the last training session on home soil and has been ruled out of the first leg.
The Cyprus champions recently re-signed Brazilian centre-back Carlao on loan from Torino, but he is not yet fit to step into the fold. Nor is instrumental winger Giorgos Efrem as he has yet to regain the necessary fitness to compete.
With the Romanian top division already underway, Viitorul will be in a far more prepared physical state than Apoel going into the two-legged affair. Yet their performance last Saturday will not have left them in the best mental state, as they went down 2-0 to league rivals CFR Cluj in a lacklustre performance.
The manager (and owner) of Viitorul is Romanian football legend Gheorghe Hagi and in his post-match press conference after that defeat, he was evidently not at all pleased with how things went.
“I do not understand what happened in Cluj. How can I think about Apoel? We had a poor game, we suffered a lot, we did not play well, nothing came off for us,” said the frustrated manager. “Why should I talk about a game in which we did not do anything?”
He did finally get around to addressing the first leg against the Nicosia club, stating that “if we do not show more strength, physical and mentally, it will be very difficult for us on Wednesday against Apoel.”
He added: “We must give 100 per cent of our ability in order to win. It is difficult, but we must bounce back”.
Apart from their opening day win over Gaz Metan, July has hardly provided reasons for optimism for Viitorul, having lost all three of their friendly matches – the Romanian Super Cup against Voluntari as well as that recent loss to Cluj in the league.
Wednesday’s match kicks-off at 9 pm Cyprus time at Stadionul Central which has a capacity of just over 4,500 spectators.