By Iacovos Constantinou
THE first round of the ten-game playoff stage of the Cyprus Football Championship begins this weekend with a maximum of 30 points for each team to play for.
The clubs have been divided into two groups of six with the top-six teams battling for the title and the coveted second and third places that lead to Europe.
In the bottom group, the six teams will be fighting to avoid the last two positions that lead to relegation.
Leaders Apollon travel to sixth-placed Ermis Aradippou with the sole aim of maintaining their two-point lead at the top. They will be without Sangoy, Hamdani and Meriem who are suspended, and the injured Robert and Angeli.
Ermis have only the league to play for following their midweek cup exit. They are four points off third place and cannot afford to drop further behind. Dutch coach Mitchell van der Gaag welcomes back to the side De Pina while his only injury concern is Rezek who will face a late fitness test.
Champions APOEL are at home to Anorthosis in the second of three games against the Famagusta team in a matter of seven days.
Kaka is still suspended while the injury list for the home side does not seem to be getting any shorter – in fact goalkeeper Pardo is on the casualty list and is a major doubt for Saturday’s game.
AEK and Omonia are level on points in third place and a win for either side will allow them to gain an advantage over the rivals.
Omonia are enjoying a purple patch and even though their top marksman Pote is still out, they will fancy their chances against AEK. Their young midfielder Fylaktou is back in the reckoning after overcoming an injury while Maltese forward Skembri may start the game.
AEK will be without their Argentine forward Colautti but their coach Thomas Christiansen has a plethora of attack-minded players to replace him with.
On their day AEK can prove a handful for any team as leaders Apollon found out, losing twice to them and letting in eight goals.
At the other end of the table, Ayia Napa face Nea Salamina in Paralimni and know that with a win they will be level on points with their opponents.
Salmania, who began the season so promisingly, are just off the relegation zone and know that they need to start picking up points in order to survive.
Bottom of the table Doxa are at home to the indifferent AEL while the last weekend game is between Ethnikos Achnas and Othellos Athienou. Ethnikos have a six-point cushion from the danger zone and a draw will not be disastrous. On the other hand Othellos need the points to start edging up the table if they are to avoid a quick return to the second division.
Saturday, March 7th: Ermis vs Apollon & APOEL vs Anorthosis (16.00)
Sunday, March 8th: AEK vs Omonia (18.00)
All games on Sunday, March 8th at 16.00
Doxa vs AEL, Ehnikos Achnas vs Othellos & Ayia Napa vs Nea Salamina