With just a point each so far, Borussia Dortmund and Apoel go into Matchday 4 of the Champions League in pursuit of a precious win at Signal Iduna Park to boost their chances of continuing their European campaigns.
The two sides played out an exciting 1-1 draw in Nicosia two weeks ago, and another open game is expected tonight (9.45pm), the clash being each team’s best hope of getting a foothold in third place in Group H.
Against one of the strongest sides in Europe when playing at home, Apoel’s task is significantly tougher, and their recent form has morale and optimism at an unexpected low.
Defeats to Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur were certainly no disgrace, but the usually dominant force of Cypriot football lie in eighth position in the league, albeit having played three games fewer than most of their rivals.
Since the creditable draw with Dortmund, Apoel lost 3-1 to leaders AEK Larnaca, followed by a shock 1-1 draw at bottom side Ethnikos Achna over the weekend.
Such is Apoel’s poor recent form that much-loved manager Giorgos Donis offered his resignation to the board, but it was rejected by president Prodromos Petrides who sees the Greek boss as the man to turn the club’s fortunes around as he did when he returned in the summer.
Not making Donis’ job any easier, however, is the list of injury concerns which has been a common theme of Apoel’s season so far. Facundo Bertoglio, Praxitelis Vouros, Nicholas Ioannou, Roberto Lago, Lorenzo Ebecilio, Boy Waterman and Zhivko Milanov have not made the squad. Waterman, who suffered an injury against Dortmund in Nicosia, has had a shoulder operation which will rule him out until the new year.
Carlao and Vouros had to sit out Saturday’s draw at Achna but have made the squad for Dortmund, and another piece of positive news for Apoel is that winger Giorgos Efrem is back in the squad, though is unlikely to start.
While Apoel are having a tough time, Dortmund are also going through a similar uncharacteristic blip. As well as defeats to Madrid and Spurs, the Germans had been top of the Bundesliga up until a few weeks ago, but a series of poor results have seen Bayern Munich regain pole position.
Before the game against Apoel in Nicosia, a 3-2 defeat against RB Leipzig brought an end to their 41-match unbeaten run at home in the league. Then, a two-goal lead was surrendered against Eintracht Frankfurt in a 2-2 draw, before Saturday’s 4-2 defeat against Hannover which leaves them three points adrift of Bayern.
Dortmund were expected to be battling it out with Tottenham for second place in Group H at the start of the campaign but defeats in their opening two matches coupled with, what is by their standards, a disappointing draw with Apoel means that Wednesday’s game is an absolute must-win for the Germans.
Manager Peter Bozs is not without injury concerns of his own, with Erik Durm, Lukasz Piszczek, Marco Reus and Sebastian Rode all expected to miss out.
Those who will certainly be present are the passionate Dortmund supporters. Around 80,000 fans are expected to fill Signal Iduna Park to assist their side’s cause, while a healthy contingent of Apoel followers will be hoping for a great European upset.