By Andreas Vou
APOEL will face FC Astana in the Champions League playoff round with the first leg to be played in Kazakhstan on August 18 and the deciding fixture on August 26.
After edging past FC Midtjylland on Tuesday evening in difficult circumstances, the Cyprus champions were handed a slice of good fortune the following day as the exits of Steaua Bucharest and FC Salzburg meant that APOEL were seeded for Friday’s draw.
Rather than face some of Europe’s more experienced sides, APOEL were classed as one of the strongest sides in the Champions Route, meaning that the chances of drawing a lesser side were more likely.
The largely inexperienced Astana have never reached the group stages of European competition. Wednesday night’s epic 4-3 win over HJK Helsinki, in which they needed a 93rd minute goal to progress, spells their best ever run in Europe.
While the team is largely unknown to APOEL, the manager is not unfamiliar to Cypriot football as Stanimir Stoilov coached Anorthosis from 2011 to 2013.
APOEL have qualified for the Champions League group stages three times in the last six seasons, meaning that they are strong favourites to progress.
However, long-serving midfielder Constantinos Charalambides was quick to warn against underestimating their opponents shortly after the draw was made, stating: “Every team in this stage is strong and requires great effort to qualify to the groups.”
The first leg will be played at the Astana Arena at 7pm local time, while the return fixture is scheduled at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia at 9.45pm.