By Andreas Vou
APOEL host Asteras Tripolis in Week 3 of the Europa League in Nicosia on Thursday (8pm), with the Cyprus champions knowing they must win if they are to maintain realistic hopes of progressing to the knockout phase of the competition.
Temur Ketsbaia’s side have lost their opening two group games, against Schalke and Sparta Prague respectively, so three points are seen as imperative when they take on the Greek club in what is regarded as their most straightforward fixture.
The Georgian coach has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the crunch clash. Nektarios Alexandrou and Pieros Soteriou are still out, as too is long-term absentee Urko Pardo, but the rest of the squad is available for selection.
Argentine striker Fernando Cavenaghi has been on fire in the Cyprus first division since his arrival with ten goals in seven matches – three of those coming in Saturday’s 6-0 league win over AEL.
The former River Plate star was shunned in the two previous European games in favour of Soteriou against Schalke and Mateusz Piątkowski versus Sparta.
However, APOEL have not scored a goal from open play at home in Europe since Cillian Sheridan scored against Aalborg in August 2014 so, with Fernando Cavenaghi in excellent form, Ketsbaia’s selection up front will be under more scrutiny than ever.
After the weekend win against AEL, Ketsbaia was keen to stress that Thursday’s encounter is a must-win match, as too is the reverse fixture, in order to be in with a chance of progressing to the knockout phase.
“We have to win if we want to continue in Europe. We have to win both at home and away,” said the former Anorthosis manager.
Meanwhile, Asteras boss Staikos Vergetis warned of the threat APOEL pose but insists his side will battle for a positive result.
“We are aware that we are facing a big team which is currently in very good form but we are obligated – for the club, the fans and mainly for ourselves – to fight.”
Asteras picked up a point against Sparta in the opening group game and are therefore a place above APOEL ahead of the match.
Vergetis made clear his side’s intention going into the game, explaining that a cautious approach would be taken.
“We will start with a 4-5-1 formation with a defensive mindset. We must restrict APOEL and attempt to hit them on the counter-attack,” the 39-year-old stated.
APOEL enter the game in blistering form. Four straight league wins, in which they have scored 16 times without reply, have put the Nicosia club top of the table, three points clear of AEK in second.
The problem for APOEL has been in adapting their game from pace-setters in Cyprus to underdogs in Europe, yet this fixture is a rare occasion where they are fully expected to take the game to their opponents with a more attacking outlook.
Asteras, on the other hand, are currently experiencing a rough patch having not picked up a win in their last four games in all competitions, with their latest disappointment coming in the form of a 1-1 draw at home to Xanthi.
Schalke play host to Sparta Prague in Group K’s other fixture.