By Andreas Vou
Though progression to the last 16 of the Champions League now looks highly unlikely, APOEL still have a lot to play for when they take on Paris Saint-Germain in the French capital on Wednesday night (9.45pm).
Giorgos Donis’ men held their own for 86 minutes against the rich Parisians in Nicosia two weeks ago only to see their efforts count for nothing as a late Edinson Cavani strike handed the French champions all three points.
The agonising defeat at the GSP looks to have all but ended APOEL’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages of the competition as they now lie five points adrift of Barcelona who occupy the second and final qualifying spot in Group F.
However, in what will be their 20th Champions League match, the Cypriot champions will take to the field against the Group F leaders in the hope of coming away with a positive result which will keep them in with a chance of finishing third in the group, where Ajax currently sit one point above APOEL, which will see them into the Europa League.
Over the weekend, PSG earned their third straight Ligue 1 victory at Lorient with goals from Cavani and youngster Jean-Christophe Bahebeck as they continue to pursue leaders Marseille.
APOEL geared up for their big European game with a routine 4-0 away win over Ethinkos Achnas thanks to a brace from Cillian Sheridan and further strikes from Nektarios Alexandrou and Gustavo Manduca.
For the Parisians, superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still a major doubt due to a heel injury which has kept him out of action since September but PSG will be able to count on Argentine winger Ezequiel Lavezzi, who missed the previous meeting between the two sides.
APOEL have a slight concern at left-back as first choice Marios Antoniades was forced off against PSG two weeks ago with an injury and did not even make the bench for the weekend’s league match. The 24-year-old has, however, made the 22-man squad and the manager also has options in Alexandrou and Nicholas Ioannou to fill in at left-back if need be.
Meanwhile John Arne Riise suffered a bruised leg in Saturday’s league match against Ethnikos and will not travel with the squad to Paris. Also out of the squad are club captain Constantinos Charalambidis and centre-back Kaka.
Speaking ahead of the game, PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu was keen to deny the notion that a victory for his side would be a formality as the Italian paid tribute to the hard-working Cypriot team who ran them close in their recent meeting.
“I believe that the match will have the same image as the first. APOEL are a very difficult team to face, attack-minded, a team with the full meaning of the word and have good individuals. They play closed and it is difficult to find space between the lines. This makes them a complicated side.”
APOEL know they face a massive task when they take on Laurent Blanc’s side, who have not lost at home in Europe in their last 30 matches, but a similar performance to the one in Nicosia a fortnight ago will give them every chance of getting a favourable result.