By Andreas Vou
APOEL start their bid to return to the group stages of the Champions League with a third-round tie against the winner of the match between Rabotnicki of Macedonia and HJK Helsinki.
AEL have been handed the toughest possible draw as they were pitted against Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg.
APOEL, the 2011/12 Champions League quarter-finalists, as a result of winning the Cypriot first division last season, entered the ‘Champions draw’ – a pool of teams who won Europe’s lesser ranked leagues. Rabotnicki and HJK Helsinki played out a goalless draw on Tuesday evening which leaves this Wednesday’s second leg wide open as to who will face Giorgos Donis’ side.
This is the first year which sees two Cypriot teams in the qualification process of Europe’s top competition and, despite narrowly missing out on the league title, AEL were the ones who benefited from UEFA’s new system. However, the draw was anything but kind as they face Champions League regulars Zenit.
APOEL’s first-leg will be on either the 29th or 30th of July which will be away from home and the return leg will be on 5/6 August.
AEL will host Andre Villas-Boas’ men at the GSP stadium on the 29th of this month and will travel to Russia on the 6th of August for the return match.
The draw was partly affected by the political unrest in Ukraine, with UEFA forbidding the meeting of a Russian side with one from the Ukraine. Zenit could not have been drawn against Dnipro and therefore the chances of drawing AEL were increased.
In the Europa League, Omonia will face either FK Metalurg or FK Zeljeznicar, provided they see off Buducnost of Montenegro.
The Nicosia club earned a vital 0-2 away win against Buducnost on Thursday which makes qualification to the next round almost a formality.
European debutants Ermis Aradippou, the surprise packages of last season, were handed a tough tie against Young Boys, with the first leg to be played in Switzerland. The third round matches of the Europa League qualifying will take place on July 31st and August 7th.
Champions League third qualifying round (29/30 July and 5/6 August)
FK Rabotnicki (MKD)/HJK Helsinki (FIN) v APOEL FC (CYP)
AEL Limassol FC (CYP) v FC Zenit (RUS)
UEFA Europa League third qualifying round (31 July & 7 August)
FK Budućnost Podgorica (MNE)/AC Omonia (CYP) v FK Metalurg Skopje (MKD)/FK Željezničar (BIH)
BSC Young Boys (SUI) v Ermis Aradippou FC (CYP)