By Andreas Vou
APOEL are gearing up for another famous Champions League night as they prepare to take on the mighty FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou in what will be one of the biggest tests in the club’s history.
The Cypriot champions are back in Europe’s elite competition for the third time in six years and after a two year absence following their famous 2011-12 campaign where they reached the last eight of the competition against all odds.
The two sides have never met before though APOEL’s last match in the Champions League proper was away from home at another one of Spanish football’s great landmarks, the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, where the Cypriots suffered a 5-2 defeat against Real Madrid.
Norwegian defender John Arne Riise was snapped up on a free transfer two weeks ago by APOEL – the 33-year-old scored the winner for Liverpool in a 1-2 win over Barça in 2007 but is unlikely to feature in Wednesday’s match due to lack of fitness.
Another APOEL player to have tasted victory at the home of the Catalans is midfielder Tiago Gomes who was part of the Hercules team which beat Barcelona 0-2 in 2010 in a Spanish first division match. Gomes’ compatriot Nuno Morais featured on the bench for Chelsea in a 2-1 defeat against Barça in 2005 while goalkeeper Urko Pardo was in Barcelona’s reserve sides for eight years.
Other than Riise, centre-back Tasos Papazoglou is also a major doubt for the trip after having to withdraw from Saturday’s league match against Ermis early on due to an abdominal strain.
The Catalan side have been the most successful in the Champions League over the last decade, having won the competition three times while last year’s exit at the quarter-final stage was the first time they failed to reach at least the semis in seven seasons.
Barcelona are used to comfortable victories on their own patch but had to dig deep to earn a win over Athletic Club de Bilbao on Saturday. The Basques kept the home side at bay for 79 minutes, until Brazilian star Neymar, on as a second half substitute, scored twice in five minutes to maintain Barça’s perfect start to the season.
Despite their past successes, Barcelona have undergone a number of changes over the summer with seven new signings as well as a change of manager. Luis Enrique took over at the helm from Tata Martino in the summer and Wednesday’s match will be his first ever in the Champions League in his managerial career.
Dani Alves missed Saturday’s game through injury but is expected to make a return to the lineup. Javier Mascherano was forced off at half-time after a blow to the head and is doubtful while Thomas Vermaelen remains out with a hamstring injury.
In their last 30 Champions League home matches, Barça have won 22, drawn six and lost just twice. APOEL have played six group matches away from home in the competition and, despite having never won, APOEL have impressively drawn five times and lost just once.