By Andreas Vou
APOEL travel to Amsterdam to take on Dutch champions Ajax on Wednesday (9.45pm) knowing that only a win will do in order to remain in European competition beyond the new year.
Giorgos Donis’ side are bottom of Champions League Group F, one point behind their Dutch counterparts.
A win for APOEL will see them leapfrog their opponents into third place which will hand them progression to the knockout phase of the Europa League.
Despite their valiant performances, APOEL have amassed just one point so far in the competition and have lost three games in a row without scoring a goal since their only draw this campaign – that point came against Ajax in Nicosia, where the two sides played out a 1-1 draw.
Gustavo Manduca’s penalty, APOEL’s only goal so far in the competition this season, leveled the game just four minutes after Lucas Andersen had put the visitors ahead.
Two defeats against Paris Saint-Germain as well as a heavy 4-0 home loss at the hands of Barcelona have left APOEL with the tough task of defeating Ajax on their own patch – the Cypriots have never won a Champions League match away from home.
Club captain Constantinos Charalambidis continues his road to recovery while Argentine midfielder Tomas De Vincenti is undergoing individual physiotherapy and gym exercises but both will not make the squad for Wednesday’s game. John Arne Riise will also remain in Cyprus after coming down with symptoms of gastroenteritis.
Brazilian centre-back Carlao has been one of APOEL’s top performers in this year’s competition and his return to training is a major boost for the Cypriots, especially as his defensive partner Guilherme misses out through suspension following his red card against Barcelona.
Ajax will be without Kolbeinn Sigthórsson after the Icelandic international suffered an ankle injury in his side’s 5-0 drubbing of Willem II over the weekend. The striker managed to bag Ajax’s opening goal on 14 minutes but was forced off just five minutes later.
Ajax will qualify for the knockout stage of the Europa League as long as they avoid defeat but Dutch legend Johan Cruyff has warned his former club that playing for a draw could bring negative consequences.
“Against APOEL, there could be unfortunate surprises. It is true that, for Ajax, a point is enough but if they play for a draw they may have a problem.
“Therefore I suggest they play attacking and intelligently. APOEL defend very well and the best way of approaching them is to be clinical,” Cruyff concluded, speaking to De Telegraaf.
APOEL go into their do-or-die match in high spirits following a 0-1 away win against Anorthosis which, coupled with Apollon’s 3-1 defeat against AEK Larnaca, gives them a five-point lead at the top of the Cyprus standings.
The scorer of that vital goal was Rafik Djebbour who expressed his delight via his personal Twitter account and also stated his intention for the upcoming European match.
“Victory time for APOEL. I’m so glad for giving a goal to my team. Let’s win again against Ajax! Go APOEL.”