The first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round sees AEK Larnaca face a daunting challenge at home to Spartak Moscow, while Apollon visit Grasshopper in Switzerland.
AEK have so far breezed through the first two rounds, winning 6-1 and 5-2 on aggregate against Folgore of San Marino and Cliftonville of Northern Ireland respectively but they will be pushed to the limit when Russian side Spartak come to town on Thursday.
A doubt still remains over the fitness of key midfielder Vincent Laban but the Larnaca side are confident that the Cypriot international will be able to start.
AEK’s press officer, Kyriakos Demetriou told Sport FM that overcoming the Russian giants would be “the biggest achievement” in the club’s history.
“We want to go toe-to-toe with our opponent and that the finer details fall in our favour,” Demetriou added.
Spartak boss Dmitri Alenichev is more than confident that his side will see off Imanol Idiakez’s side: “AEK are more like a Spanish team than a Cypriot one, but they are older,” he said. “If my players play at their best, the opponent will have little chance of qualifying.”
AEK’s home form gives hope for a positive first leg result, as they have only lost one Europa League qualifying match in front of their own supporters in seven previous matches, and won five.
Spartak have not appeared in the competition since 2013, when they were knocked out by St. Gallen in the playoff round.
While Omonia and AEK entered the Europa League in round one, Apollon, as domestic cup winners, start their European campaign in the third round.
The Limassol outfit have been pitted against Swiss side Grasshopper who defeated Iceland’s KR Reykjavik 5-4 on aggregate.
Apollon have fond memories of the Europa League, having reached the group stages of the competition two years running, in 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Cypriot international defender Marios Stylianou spoke to Apollon’s official website about the threat of Grasshopper, who he believes are the favourites: “We are in for a very dangerous match with a high level of difficulty. We acknowledge that Grasshopper are especially strong at home and very ambitious for the new season.”
He added that the aim is to grab an away goal, more than getting the win: “We are going to Switzerland to score, and not to get the best result.”
AEK’s match gets underway first, at 6pm Cyprus time at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, while Apollon’s game in Switzerland kicks-off at 8.45pm.