By Andreas Vou
APOEL are looking to finish off the job against FC Midtjylland in their Champions League third-round qualifying second leg match after their 2-1 win in Denmark last week, which would guarantee European group stage football for yet another season in Nicosia.
The Cyprus champions boosted their chances of progression to the Champions League playoff round last Thursday with two away goals, yet a late strike by the Danes means that there is still work to do for APOEL in order to see out the tie.
Two goals in three first-half minutes handed APOEL a resounding lead – the first via an own goal from Kian Hansen just before a fine solo effort from Tomas De Vincenti.
Midtjylland piled on the pressure in the second half and got their reward on 88 minutes through Jakob Poulsen to set up a mouthwatering encounter at a packed GSP Stadium on Tuesday (8pm).
Midtjylland won the Danish Superliga last season and have started the new domestic campaign from where they left off, maintaining their 100 per cent record on Friday with a win over Odense thanks to a 90th minute strike from Morten Rasmussen.
Jess Thorup believes that his side will require a ‘miracle’ in Nicosia to overcome their first leg deficit yet does not rule out such a possibility.
“We’re going to Cyprus with the aim of winning, chasing the small miracle that we need in order to progress,” said the Midtjylland boss. “I was the first to be disappointed with last Tuesday’s result. When I watched the match again on video, it gave me the strength that we can hope (to win). Our performance was not so bad.”
Not only would passage to the next round leave APOEL within two matches of reaching the Champions League group stage but it would also provide the safety net of at least securing a place in the Europa League group stage if they were to lose out.
Such a guarantee would provide an economic windfall for the Nicosia club which is also likely to bring a new face or two to Archangelos in a final push to make it to Europe’s elite competition.
Domingos Paciencia is awaiting updates on the fitness of defenders Marios Antoniades and Joao Guilherme who missed out last week through injury but has been boosted by the news that Spanish centre-back Iñaki Astiz has recovered from a knock suffered last week.
The Portuguese manager is expected to field the same eleven who started in the first leg and, as ever when playing at home, despite holding a one-goal advantage and away goals in hand, APOEL will be expected to take the game to their opponents.
Adding to the intensity of the match will be the sweltering Nicosia heat with temperatures set to exceed 40 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, some 25 degrees warmer than the conditions in last week’s first leg in Denmark.
Sure to raise the heat inside the stadium will be the ever vocal APOEL supporters with more than 16.000 fans expected to pack the GSP stadium on Tuesday evening.