After a stern lesson at the Santiago Bernabeu a fortnight ago, Apoel’s challenging Champions League group campaign continues on Tuesday night with a visit from Premier League runners-up Tottenham Hotspur.
It is a match the Apoel fans have been eagerly awaiting after a three-year absence from the group stages of Europe’s top competition, but they face one of their biggest tests to date against a fearsome young Spurs side.
Giorgos Donis’ side fell to a 3-0 defeat at Real Madrid two weeks ago and are realistically looking to their home matches for any chance of keeping their European campaign alive, which makes Tuesday’s match all the more important.
Preparations for the visit of Spurs did not quite go to plan as Apoel were held to a goalless draw by the league’s bottom side Aris Limassol on Friday, adding to the disappointment of the 1-0 home defeat to Anorthosis the week before.
It is the first time that Apoel have failed to score for two consecutive domestic games since November 2014.
Donis fielded a strong side in Limassol, but dropped midfielder Vinicius and centre-back Jesus Rueda to the bench while left-back Roberto Lago missed out through suspension. All three are expected to return to the line-up on Tuesday. However, there are some concerns over Lorenzo Ebecilio, who was withdrawn in the first half due to injury.
Tottenham have had an odd start to the campaign, as they have yet to manage a league win at their temporary Wembley home yet, unfortunately for Apoel, have been flawless on the road with three wins from three.
Their latest victory came on Saturday against London rivals West Ham where they raced to a 3-0 lead before two Hammers goals sparked a nervous ending, but eventually held on for the three points.
Incidentally, Mauricio Pochettino’s first European match as Spurs manager was in Cyprus, in a 2-1 win against AEL in the Europa League playoff round three years ago, and also came immediately after an away win against West Ham.
On that day in Larnaca, a little-known young striker by the name of Harry Kane scored the winner for Spurs. Today, the Englishman is one of Europe’s top marksmen: with 34 goals in 2017 so far, only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski have scored more than the homegrown striker.
Spurs saw off Borussia Dortmund with a 3-1 win at Wembley in their group opener, with South Korean forward Heung-Min Son scoring the opener and Kane netting twice. In fact, all of Kane’s goals this season have come in pairs, with the 24-year-old also netting braces against Everton and West Ham in the Premier League.
Jan Vertonghen and Dele Alli miss out through suspension, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Victor Wanyama and Danny Rose are sidelined through injury, while Moussa Dembele is a doubt due to a foot problem.
At home in Europe, Apoel have won eight of their last nine. In the Champions League proper however, the GSP has seen just three home wins out of eleven. Spurs’ away record leaves much to be desired as well, with just two away wins in the competition.
With it being Apoel’s first home Champions League group game since late 2014, coupled with the fact that the Spurs have such a large Cypriot following, a full GSP Stadium is anticipated for the 9.45pm kick-off.