By Andreas Vou
Facing a one-goal deficit from the first leg, APOEL must end their drought at home if they are to make it to the Champions League group stage for the fourth time in seven seasons on Wednesday (9.45pm).
An early header from Bauyrzhan Dzholchiev has given FC Astana a narrow advantage going into the money-spinning play-off decider and APOEL’s recent inability to find the net in Nicosia is a cause of great concern.
The Cyprus champions kicked off the league season in ideal fashion on Saturday, trouncing Ermis Aradippou 5-1 away, but their performances at home so far this campaign have cast doubt on their capabilities of turning around the 1-0 defeat suffered in Kazakhstan last Tuesday.
APOEL have failed to score in their three matches at the GSP Stadium this campaign, against Vardar and Midtjylland in the previous two Champions League qualifiers, as well as in the Cyprus Super Cup against AEL.
In Europe, APOEL have not scored a home goal in just under seven hours of play (418 minutes), since Gustavo Manduca equalised against Ajax from the penalty spot last September.
APOEL’s last goal at home in Europe, from open play, came exactly one year ago when Cillian Sheridan added gloss to a 4-0 win over Aalborg.
In an official statement made ahead of Wednesday night’s crunch match, the club issued a plea to its supporters to make their voices heard and to push them over the line. A crowd of around 20,000 is expected at the GSP.
“In such historic matches, belief, support and patience are the most important factors that the fans can add to the team’s push for qualification.”
Brazilian midfielder Vinicius remains suspended after UEFA opted to extend his ban for his red card against FC Midtjylland.
Manager Domingos Paciencia sprung a surprise in last week’s first leg line-up by selecting full-back Nektarios Alexandrou in his place which did not work well.
Constantinos Makrides has shaken off his injury and is expected to start alongside Nuno Morais in the centre of the park.
Vander Vieira, who played such an important role in the second leg against Midtjylland after coming on as a second-half substitute, is also in contention to start having recovered from an injury which ruled him out of last week’s defeat.
Giorgos Efrem was taken off early in the second half of the first leg due to a knock, and is unlikely to make the squad.
Astana forward Patrick Twumasi meanwhile has been hit with a six-match ban by UEFA following his red card in the third round against HJK Helsinki.
The Kazakh side did not have a domestic match over the weekend, affording manager Stanimir Stoilov, formerly of Anorthosis, and his side some extra time to rest.
APOEL have previously participated in three Champions League play-offs and have been successful in all three.
The Nicosia club will be hoping to continue their 100 per cent record but will need end their barren run in front of goal if they are to do so.