After cruising through the earlier rounds of Europa League qualifying, AEK, Apollon and AEL face trickier ties in their third round match-ups, with the first legs taking place on Thursday night.
Each of the Cypriot trio won both legs of their second round ties, but with the standard of opposition rising, they will need to be at the top of their game to make it to the playoff round.
First up in the triple-header are AEK Larnaca who, after defeating Cork City in the previous round, now face Dinamo Minsk at 8pm Cyprus time. In their first two European games at their new stadium, the AEK Arena, Imanol Idiakez’s side have won twice, scoring six goals without reply.
Like AEK, the Belarussian club entered the competition in the first round, and have breezed through to the third round with two 4-1 aggregate wins over NSI and Rabotnicki respectively.
Apollon have a difficult away first leg, as they travel to Scotland to take on Aberdeen at 9.45pm.
The Limassol club saw off the threat of Moldovan side FC Zaria with a 5-1 aggregate victory, and will be aiming for a positive result, preferably with an away goal, to boost their chances of making the playoff round ahead of next week’s return match in Cyprus.
The Scottish club made it to the third round with a hard-fought 0-2 win at Siroki Brijeg after a 1-1 home draw in the first leg.
Speaking to the Cypriot media ahead of the team’s flight from Larnaca airport, Apollon press officer Fanourios Constantinou was weary of a tough opponent.
“It will be a tough game against a classic British team with a rich history in Scottish and European football,” and added that he believes Aberdeen “certainly have the upper hand playing in front of their own crowd.”
Nevertheless, his mind is on the bigger picture: “We are certainly not without hope. We want a good result to give us a good chance ahead of next week’s second leg at the AEK Arena”.
Last up on Thursday night, at 10.05pm, is AEL’s visit to Austria Wien. AEL have won all four of their Europa League matches this campaign so far, breezing past St Joseph’s of Gibraltar 10-0 on aggregate in round one, before disposing of Luxembourg’s FC Progress Niedercorn 3-1 in the second round.
However, Austria Wien are a different proposition, having reached the group stages of the Champions League in 2013, and the Europa League last campaign.
AEL spokesperson Theodoros Antoniou also spoke to the press at Larnaca airport, and in similar tone to that of his Limassol counterpart, is expecting a tough game, but not an impossible task.
“It will not be at all easy, but our team is prepared to go to Vienna and lay the foundation for progressing into the next round,” he said.
Managed by former Apoel boss Thorsten Fink, last season’s Austrian Bundesliga runners up go straight into the third round.
They are not without match practice as the Austrian top flight is already underway, but AEL’s opponents made a terrible start, losing their opening day match 3-0 to Rheindorf Altach.
All three Cypriot sides will be aware that they face tougher matches than in their previous outings. AEK will be hoping to gain an early advantage on home soil but the aim for the Limassol clubs will be more to lay down a positive marker for the second leg rather than going all out for victory.