By Andreas Vou
AEL are looking to win their first Cyprus Coca-Cola Cup in 26 years against APOEL, who are hoping to defend their trophy at the GSZ stadium in Larnaca on Wednesday evening (7pm).
Both sides go into the final in far from peak form. APOEL have endured a tough period since sealing their place in the showpiece match against rivals Omonia last month. Despite being top of the league table, the club decided to part ways with manager Thorsten Fink after a recent defeat to Apollon, with former player Gustavo Manduca taking over on an interim basis.
AEL have had an even worse time since their semi-final success over AEK Larnaca, suffering four defeats in a row. AEL went through on the away goals rule after two draws against the Larnaca club and have not won a match in any competition since March 3.
One player who has plenty of experience in cup competitions having won the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League with Liverpool is APOEL full-back John Arne Riise.
“As you can all understand it’s a very big and important week for me and the team. This is why I came to APOEL and Cyprus, to have the chance to fight for trophies,” said the Norwegian via his blog.
“I am grateful for this and will do everything I possibly can for my team and fans. Everybody connected to this great club is doing everything they can, and it’s a great buzz around the club before these two games (cup final and league championship decider on Sunday).”
After such a dreadful run of form, AEL will need their key players on top form, none more so than their top scorer this campaign, Marco Tagbajumi. The Nigerian forward who has scored eight times this season, has been nursing an injury in recent weeks and was feared to be a doubt for the final.
But the 26-year-old moved to reassure the AEL faithful that all was well: “After five days in Athens for treatment I am coming back, I feel better and I am ready for the cup final on Wednesday. Thank you all who showed me their support during this time,” he announced.
AEL captain Marios Nikolaou was in a positive mood in his press conference on Monday, saying that, while both teams will be enemies for the duration of the game, they will return to being friends immediately after.
“The final is a celebration and that is how we want it to be from start to finish,” said the 31-year-old. “The players and managers are friends. In the 90 minutes we are intense, we may shout but after the game we are friends and go for coffee.”
While APOEL are favourites, the Nicosia club need no further reminding of the threat that AEL pose, having failed to beat them in their two league meetings this season. They shared a goalless draw at the GSP in late September and then lost 2-1 in Limassol in January in what was Fink’s first game in charge, just one of four league defeats they have suffered all season.
In recent years, the two have had contrasting fortunes in the cup. APOEL, who have claimed the most in history with 20, have won it three times in the last nine years, including last season.
AEL on the other hand are aiming to put a halt to their awful record in cup finals – the last time they won the trophy was in the 1988-89 season and they have since lost all five finals they have contested.