By Iacovos Constantinou
The 76th first division football championship kicks off this weekend with four games, two being played on Saturday and two on Sunday.
For the first time there will be only 12 teams in the top flight. After the completion of the first phase in February (twenty two games) the teams will be divided into two groups. The top six teams will challenge for the championship while the bottom six will battle to avoid the drop. There will be no automatic relegation at the end of the first phase and the two teams to be relegated will be the ones rooted at the bottom once all 27 games have been played.
Due to the dire finances of most football teams, budgets have been slashed considerably this season. Teams like Omonia, Anorthosis, and AEK have had to reduce their budgets by up to 30 per cent in order to get their finances in order. APOEL still ‘boasts’ the highest budget at around ten million with newly promoted Othellos Athienou on a ‘measly’ budget of €650.000.
The first whistle will be at the Makarion stadium where Doxa Katokopia take on Ermis Aradippou. Both teams have made considerable changes to their squads but Ermis still looks like the better team having already defeated APOEL in the Super Cup last week.
In the other Saturday fixture Ethnikos Achnas entertain newly promoted Ayia Napa who return to the top flight after dropping a division last season.
Last season’s runner up AEL travel to Larnaca to face Nea Salamina at the Ammochostos stadium. AEL may be feeling a bit hard-done by their midweek loss to Tottenham in the Europa League but should still prove too strong for their opponents.
The most intriguing tie will be played at the Tsireion stadium where one of the main title contenders Apollon clash with AEK Larnaca. The Limassol team bought wisely during the summer avoiding any wholesome changes to their squad and should prove far stronger than AEK.
The remaining two fixtures of the opening round were postponed for September 24 due to the European involvements of APOEL and Omonia. APOEL were set to play Anorthosis while Omonia were to travel to Larnaca to play first division debutants Othellos Athienou.
Saturday: Doxa Katokopias vs Ermis Aradippou (5pm), Ethnikos Achnas vs Agia Napa (7pm)
Sunday: Nea Salamina vs AEL, Apollonas vs AEK (both at 7pm)