By Andreas Vou
APOEL will be aiming to pick up their first ever away win in group stages of European competition in order to keep their qualification hopes alive on their visit to Tripoli when they take on Asteras tonight Thursday.
A narrow 2-1 win in Nicosia two weeks ago gave APOEL their first three points of their Europa League campaign but with Sparta Prague two points above them in the second qualifying spot, another win will be the order of the day for Temur Ketsbaia’s men.
If they are to do so, APOEL must bring to an end their torrid run away from home in Europe. The Cypriot champions have yet to win any of their 13 games on the road in the group stages of European competition. In total, they have drawn six and lost seven, and are currently on a streak of six consecutive away defeats. Furthermore, they have not managed to score on their last five travels, though they did defeat FC Midtjylland in Denmark in the third Champions League qualifying round this summer.
As far as team news is concerned, right-back Mario Sergio is back in contention for a start after training fully with the rest of the squad on Monday and the experienced Portuguese defender is likely to replace Kostakis Artymatas.
APOEL will likely be without two of their biggest attacking threats as Tomas De Vincenti remains suspended from his red card in the first group game against Schalke while the protagonist of the recent win over Asteras, Giorgos Efrem, has picked up an injury. Club captain Constantinos Charalambides and Brazilian winger Vander are likely to be the replacements.
There are also concerns for left-back Marios Antoniades and centre-back Carlao who were both subbed off through injury against Ethnikos Achna on Saturday.
APOEL go into the match on excellent form having won their last five games in all competitions. However, Ketsbaia was not at all pleased with the display in the recent 3-0 win over Ethnikos, believing that the scoreline did not reflect the team’s performance and demanded an improvement.
“Someone who did not watch the match will assume that APOEL played well but our win was anything but comfortable. We made so many mistakes that we are not used to making,” said the Georgian coach.
For Asteras, defeat to APOEL two weeks ago has seen a turn in their form. The Greek side’s loss at the GSP Stadium was their fifth game without a win but they have swiftly bounced back, winning their last three on the bounce, including a 2-1 win over a much-fancied PAOK side on Sunday.
Fans of both sides will have a keen eye on proceedings in Prague where second place Sparta take on group leaders Schalke. A win for the Germans coupled with a victory for APOEL would see the Cypriots leapfrog the Czech side into second place.
The match kicks off at 10.05 pm local time at the Theodoros Kolokotronis Stadium which has a capacity crowd of just under 8,000.