Cyprus Mail
Football Sport

Goal-shy APOEL host group favourites Schalke in Europa League opener

The Cyprus champions have scored just once in their three home qualifiers this season and have not scored a European goal from open play in front of their own fans since August 26, 2014 in a 4-0 win over Aalborg

By Andreas Vou

After their disappointing Champions League playoff exit, APOEL are looking to bounce back in the Europa League but face a tough challenge against Schalke 04 at the GSP Stadium on Thursday (10.05pm).

The Nicosia side are in European football’s second-tier competition and are keen to make amends following heavy criticism that ensued following their failure to overcome Kazakhstan’s FC Astana.

A consequence of their shock exit to Astana was the sacking of manager Domingos Paciencia who had only been in the job for three months. Taking over is Temur Ketsbaia who will be in charge of his first European match with the Nicosia club.

In his opening two league games, the former Anorthosis legend has guided APOEL to a 6-2 win over Paphos and a 2-2 draw in last Saturday’s game away to AEK Larnaca.

In their recent draw to last year’s league runner-up, APOEL were handed a scare as goalkeeper Boy Waterman picked up a calf injury while Iñaki Astiz also suffered a knock. The pair, however, trained on Tuesday and should be available for selection on Thursday night.

The side’s inability to find the net has become a major weak point for APOEL in Europe, especially at home. The Cyprus champions have scored just once in their three home qualifiers and have not scored a European goal from open play in front of their own fans since August 26, 2014 in a 4-0 win over Aalborg.

Brought in to boost APOEL’s impotence in front of goal is former Argentine international Fernando Cavenaghi. The 31-year-old has already made a bright start to life in Cyprus with three goals in his first two matches and APOEL will be hoping that his quality and experience will see their goal drought come to an end.

Schalke have made a decent start to the Bundesliga season with seven points from their opening four matches which puts them in fourth spot. However, the Germans have sold star player Julian Draxler to Wolfsburg since the draw was made for a fee believed to be around €36 million.

Also unavailable for Schalke are Kevin Prince Boateng, Marco Höger and Sidney Sam who were suspended indefinitely by the club after a loss to FC Köln at the back end of last season.

Their lack of attacking spark has been well documented in the German press and the onus is very much on experienced Dutch centre-forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to provide the goals for the Gelsenkirchen club.

Huntelaar, who scored the winner in a 2-1 win against Mainz on Sunday, was in buoyant mood ahead of Thursday’s clash: “I can hardly wait for the next game. We look forward to the Europa League, we want to go very far in the competition,” the Dutchman said.

Despite the disappointment of failing to reach the promised land of the Champions League for the fourth time in their history, APOEL have enough quality to launch a serious push to the next phase of the Europa League and can send out a real message to the rest of the group if they gain a positive result against Schalke tonight.

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