By Iacovos Constantinou
Thirty five games were not enough to decide this year’s Cyprus football champion, with everything on the line in the very last game of the season between the two title contenders AEL and APOEL at the Tsirion stadium in Limassol on Saturday (5pm).
With three points separating the two teams, AEL need to avoid defeat in order to be crowned champions for the second time in three years. The Limassol outfit have been sitting at top of the table for most of this year, dislodged for just a few days in April after being defeated by APOEL who at the time climbed above due to a superior head-to-head record.
AEL coach Ivaylo Petev’s main concern is how to replace one of his most influential players, the diminutive midfielder Bebe, who is suspended for the crunch game. Ohene or Theophilou look set to replace Bebe but the burden of his absence will fall on attacking midfielder Monteiro who is enjoying his best ever season with AEL.
Defending champions APOEL are hoping to become the first team in more than 60 years to win the championship in two consecutive years. Even though they boast the meanest defence and the most formidable attack, they know that the task ahead is not an easy one as only a win can deliver them the title.
Such is the competitiveness of this year’s championship that a defeat for APOEL will most probably see them drop into third place allowing Apollon to take the second coveted position that leads to the Champion’s League qualifying rounds.
APOELs coach Giorgos Donis faces similar problems to his counterpart as he has to find a replacement for his most consistent player of the season, winger Stathis Aloneftis, who was unable to shake off a niggling injury. Donis is keeping his cards close to his chest and any one of Gomes, Manduca and Alexandrou will fill that slot.
The 7,460 tickets that were issued for the game (AEL 5,060 and APOEL 2,400) proved inadequate as they disappeared within hours of being made available. Some APOEL fans even spent all Thursday night camped outside the APOEL ticket outlet to make certain of being at the front of the queue!
The names of the officials will not be made public until a few hours before the game and for the first time in Cyprus’ league history there will also be two goal-line officials in line with what happens in Champions and Europa League games.
In the other matches of the weekend, Apollon need a win against Anorthosis to make sure of second place if APOEL lose while Ermis and Omonia will battle it out for fourth place with a draw favouring the home side.
There is not much to play for in Group B as the relegation positions were decided last week.
Full fixture list:
Friday: Ermis v Omonia 2-1 FT score
Saturday: AEL v APOEL (17.00)
Sunday: Anorthosis v Apollon (18.00)
Sunday: AEK Larnaca v Doxa, Aris v Nea Salamina, Ethnikos Achnas v AEK Kouklion (all at 17.00)