Apollon kick-off their Europa League group stage campaign with a hugely demanding encounter against last year’s semi-finalists Olympique Lyonnais at the GSP Stadium on Thursday (8pm).
Like Apoel in the Champions League, the Limassol side have become somewhat regulars in the competition, having reached the group stages for the third time in five years.
Sofronis Avgousti guided his side to the groups after defeating FC Zaria, Aberdeen and Midtjylland respectively in the qualifiers, and will now face Lyon, Everton and Atalanta in Group E.
A player who played a key part in Apollon’s qualification was Chambos Kyriakou but the homegrown midfielder has since been loaned out to Portuguese side Estoril.
The Limassol club have strengthened however, loaning Brazilian youngster Allan from Liverpool and Argentinian striker Nicolas Martinez from Olympiacos.
Defender Angelis Angeli has returned to normal training though is unlikely to feature while Avgousti is hoping that forward Antun Maglica, who played an important role in the qualifying rounds, will recover in time.
The Apollon defence will have their hands full against a powerful attacking line-up. Lyon have one of the best frontlines in the competition with former Manchester United man Memphis Depay, ex-Chelsea winger Bertrand Traore and French international Nabil Fekir behind striker Mariano Diaz who arrived from Real Madrid in the summer.
The French side are undefeated in their opening five Ligue 1 games, winning three of them which puts them in third position behind last year’s champions Monaco in second and big spenders Paris Saint-Germain who sit top after a perfect start.
After dropping into the competition last season following their exit from the Champions League, the French side knocked out AZ, Roma and Besiktas before eventually falling to Ajax in the last four. It is worth noting that Lyon lost their last three away games in the competition last season.
The GSP is also the scene of one of their most disappointing European nights, as they famously lost on penalties to Apoel in the Champions League Round of 16 in the 2011/12 campaign.
Apollon press officer Fanourios Konstantinou concedes that his side “are the outsiders” but says that the team will “try to make things difficult for the French club”.
As well as success on the continent, Apollon’s big aim is to win the Cypriot first division title, but their start to the season did not go to plan as they could only manage a 1-1 draw at Olympiakos Nicosia.
In their two previous group campaigns, Apollon kicked off at home and won both times – they defeated French side Nice 2-0 in 2013/14 and then FC Zurich 3-2 in 2014/15. However, they remain their only two victories beyond the qualifying rounds.
This summer, Apollon were immaculate on home ground in Cyprus, winning all three games against FC Zaria, Aberdeen and Midtjylland at the AEK Arena, and their fans will be hoping for that run to continue on Thursday.
As they did throughout those games in order to get to this stage of the competition, Apollon’s supporters are set to turn up in huge numbers in the group stage. Around 8,000 fans are expected to make the short drive to the capital in what will be one of the toughest games in the club’s history.