By Andreas Vou
APOEL face a huge challenge on Tuesday when they host Paris Saint-Germain at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia (9.45pm), but will be boosted by the fact that a number of the French side’s star men are sidelined, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Cyprus champions are aware that, realistically, only a win will be enough if they are to have any chance of reaching the last 16.
Amazingly, despite being the only team in France yet to suffer defeat in the opening ten matches of the Ligue 1 season, PSG remain seven points behind leaders Marseille having drawn six times. The weekend saw a more productive display as the Parisian moneybags beat Lens 3-1 away from home.
APOEL had the weekend off as there were no fixtures in the Cypriot first division which allowed time for the likes of Nuno Morais and Carlao to recover from minor injuries.
However, Stathis Aloneftis has been unable to train with the team over the last two weeks and missed both of Cyprus’ recent Euro 2016 qualifiers. He managed some personal training on Sunday but looks to be losing his race against time to make the squad.
The major news from the Parisian camp is that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out of the match. The Swedish superstar has missed his side’s last four matches with a heel injury and will not recover in time to face APOEL.
Captain Thiago Silva is yet to feature this season due to injury but could make the journey to Cyprus. His Brazil international colleague David Luiz has also been out with a muscle injury but may still travel with the squad, though compatriot Marquinhos will remain in France along with Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Midfield trio Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye were taken off against Lens after suffering knocks but are all expected to be fit to start.
APOEL captain Constantinos Charalambides believes his side’s chances depend on how well the players implement coach Giorgos Donis’ strategy.
“The most important thing for these types of games is the tactical analysis which is made by the manager. Against Ajax, we executed a plan which worked very well on the field. Personally, I believe that, if it works, it is because the players demonstrated discipline on the pitch.”
He went on to say that the team must win if they are to have any hope of reaching the next round.
“To face Paris Saint-Germain was a wish of ours and we have won regardless of what happens. Obviously, only a win against PSG will allow us to have a chance of qualifying.”
The international break coupled with a pause in the Cypriot league this weekend was an unwelcome interruption for APOEL according to French-born striker Rafik Djebbour.
“The problem is that we have not played even one match, friendly or official, for the last two weeks. There were the international games but also one other break to refurbish the pitches. This is not ideal for us before taking on PSG,” said the 30-year-old.
The Algerian international, however, warned PSG that the atmosphere created by the APOEL fans could cause them damage.
“PSG will feel quite a hot atmosphere; it is a bit like a Greek stadium. Let’s say that our fans can do anything with their voices.”
The loss of Ibrahimovic is a significant one but PSG still managed to defeat Barcelona in the Swede’s absence in their previous Champions League outing, and so APOEL know they will need to perform to the best of their abilities if they are to gain a favourable result.