THE second phase of the championship gets under way this weekend with the top six teams gunning for the title and the lucrative European places. The teams that finished in places 7 to 12 have only one goal and that is to avoid sinking to 12th place, a position that will lead them to the second division along with already relegated Ethnikos Achnas and Aris.
With 30 points to be won in this phase a lot of things can change in both groups.
However, Apoel and Apollon do have a strong advantage over their rivals for the championship as they go into the playoffs with a seven and five point cushion, respectively, over third placed Anorthosis.
AEK are three points behind Anorthosis, but fourth place should be enough for the Larnaca team to enter the Europa League qualifying round next season, unless AEL stage a late rally (currently five points adrift) and pip them to the coveted fourth spot.
The last team in the top group, Omonia, seem set for another miserable season as a European finish seems highly unlikely.
In the relegation scrap, both Doxa Katokopias and Ermis Aradippou seem relatively safe while the remaining four teams, Pafos FC, Nea Salamina, Alki and Olympiakos are in for a nail-biting finish as they are separated by just six points.
The Limassol derby between Apollon and AEL kicks off the playoff phase in what should be a closely contested fixture.
AEL remain just one of the two teams this season (Anorthosis being the other) that have not lost to Apollon with both this season’s encounters finishing in a 1-1 draw. However, they have yet to register a win against any of the top group sides.
Both sides will be without a player each, Sardinero from Apollon and Weeler from AEL.
Omonia and Apoel meet on Sunday for the second time in a couple of weeks, with Omonia hoping to end a disastrous winless run against Apoel that goes back five years.
Omonia’s coach Ivaylo Petev will be glad to see his top scorer Matt Derbyshire back from suspension, as well as Kante and Jailson. Fanos Katelaris also seems set for a return after a spell on the sidelines injured, while attacking midfielder Theophilus Solomon will sit this one out through suspension.
Lorenzo Embezilio is back for Apoel after serving his one-game suspension, but Roberto Lago and the permanently sidelined Giorgos Efraim are still not available through injury.
In the final top group game, AEK will to go level on points with Anorthosis if they manage to defeat the Famagusta team at the Arena stadium.
Anorthosis will be happy to avoid defeat so as to maintain their three point advantage over their opponents.
In the bottom group, Olympiakos are at home to the season’s pleasant surprise, Doxa Katokopias, while the team just above them, Alki, are away to Ermis Aradippou.
In the final game of the group, two sides that have improved considerably in recent weeks, Nea Salamina and Pafos FC, clash at the Ammochostos stadium.
Saturday: Olympiakos v Doxa (4.00), Apollon v AEL (5.00), AEK v Anorthosis (7.00)
Sunday: Omonia v Apoel (3.00), Ermis v Alki (5.00), Nea Salamina v Pafos FC (6.00)