By Nemanja Bjedov
Cypriot champions APOEL have travelled to Belgium where they take on SV Zulte Waregem in Brussels on Thursday, as Apollon host French side OGC Nice at Nicosia’s GSP Stadium, in the first legs of the Europa League playoff round.
“There is no doubt that we have a tough match ahead of us,” admitted APOEL president Phivos Erotocritou. “Zulte are a very good side, but I still believe our qualification into the group stages depends mostly on us.
“We are definitely good enough to get a result that would help us reach the next stage, after the second leg in Nicosia.”
Athos Solomou and Helder Cabral have been left out of the mission to Brussels, while Gustavo Manduca will probably be given a late fitness test, as the Argentinean midfielder complained of a minor leg injury.
Meanwhile, APOEL coach Paulo Sergio will have to watch the match from the stands as he starts a two-match ban for inappropriate behaviour towards officials in the last minutes of the match against NK Maribor in Slovenia in the previous round.
“We were eliminated from Champions League qualifications by Maribor and that is behind us – now we must focus on what is ahead,” continued Erotocritou.
“I am very confident we can get a result that would give us a chance of advancing. Sergio will not be at the bench, but Sergio Cruz is his close associate, so I am sure we will not have a problem there,” he added.
The match at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, home of RSC Anderlecht, kicks off at 9.45pm Cyprus time, while Apollon take on Nice in Nicosia at 9pm.
“It is our pleasure to be here; after winning the national cup last season we have secured our European presence,” noted Apollon coach Christakis Christoforou, going on to add that: “we will do everything we can to advance into the group stage of the Europa League.
“We have seen our opponents and I believe we know more or less everything we need to know about them: they rely on their speed and teamwork, while they also defend pretty well.
“We are ready and my players are eager to fight and give everything they have on the pitch in order to qualify,” said Christoforou.
“It is a financial burden for our fans that we will not play in Limassol,” he went on. “Hopefully this will change in the future and we will be allowed to play at our own stadium.
“Regardless, I would like to invite (our fans) to come to the GSP Stadium and support their team, as our players definitely need their presence,” concluded Christoforou who has a full squad to choose from.