By Andreas Vou
APOEL are in Denmark on Wednesday to take on Aalborg in the first leg of the Champions League play-off, with the Cypriot champions aiming to bring back a positive result from their trip.
It was exactly five years ago on Monday, since APOEL’s last visit to Denmark which resulted in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of FC Copenhagen. A week later, however, they were celebrating one of the biggest moments in their history as a 3-1 victory in Nicosia sealed APOEL’s first ever progression to the group stages of the Champions League.
Half a decade later and APOEL are just two matches away from their third qualification to the groups of Europe’s top club competition.
Bar last week’s hiccup in the Cypriot Super Cup in which they lost 2-1 to Ermis Aradippou, APOEL have looked sharp in pre-season and got through the last qualifying round relatively comfortably.
APOEL saw off the challenge of HJK Helsinki with a 4-2 aggregate victory in the third-qualifying round. In both legs, Tomas de Vincenti and Cillian Sheridan scored a goal each and manager Giorgos Donis will be hoping for more magic from his dangerous duo who go into the encounter in great form.
Having signed former Olympiacos striker Rafik Djebbour earlier this month, APOEL were hoping that the 30-year-old would give them a huge push in their bid to reach the group stages, so much so that the club agreed a €100,000 bonus should they earn qualification. However, due to delays in the transfer, the Algerian only signed on August 5, leaving too little time for him to reach full match fitness and has therefore remained in Cyprus.
New signing from Manchester United, Nicholas Ioannou, was also unfit to make the trip in an otherwise full-strength APOEL roster.
With the Danish Superliga having started in mid-July, Aalborg are arguably in better condition than the Cypriots. However, last year’s champions have not got off to the best start in their opening five games, accumulating just six points.
They suffered a 0-1 home defeat in the last qualifying round against Dinamo Zagreb but impressively turned the tie around with a 0-2 win in Croatia to earn their place in the play-off thanks to two goals from danger-man Anders Jacobsen.
APOEL’s vice-president Harris Fotiou stressed the importance of reaching the group stages and hopes he and his team will be celebrating at the end of the tie.
“Without exaggeration, the biggest and the most important asset of APOEL is the wealth that it made in Europe. Last year’s title win was, for us, 50 per cent of our main goal. The next 50 per cent will be completed, we hope and we wish with success, on August 26 (date of the second leg). We hope that the next day we will end up with welcome headaches.”
Aalborg have not won at home in their last three matches and APOEL will be hoping to extend that run as they look to lay down a positive marker ahead of the return match in Nicosia next Tuesday.