Cyprus Mail

Tough tasks for Apollon, AEK in Europa League

AEK will need to pull off a special result in Moscow if they are to get past Russian giants Spartak after a 1-1 draw in the first leg

Both Cypriot sides competing in the Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday need to overcome deficits from the first leg if they are to continue in the competition.

Apollon’s late 2-1 defeat at Grasshopper in Zurich sees them start the evening needing a win, while despite coming back from a goal down to draw 1-1, AEK will need to pull off a special result in Russia to get past Spartak Moscow.

Even though AEK’s draw was respectable against one of the toughest sides in the round, Spartak’s away goal at the Antonis Papadopoulos means that the Larnaca side must go for the win.

Cypriot international midfielder Vicent Laban could not make the first leg squad but has travelled with the squad to Russia and is hopeful of making the 18-man list. On the other hand, international colleague Ilias Charalambous will not make the cut due to injury.

Nevertheless, the experienced defender gave his thoughts on the second leg: “We still have hopes and we will pursue them. We will not be going to Russia for a holiday. The fans can be sure that we are aiming for qualification,” he said. Spartak are a very good team and we are aware that they will be stronger at their home. AEK showed that we are also a good team and we will give it our all on the field.”

Not that AEK need any reminding of their opposition’s quality, but Spartak made light work of Arsenal Tula in the Russian Premier League on Sunday with a 4-0 home win.

Apollon meanwhile were left ruing a number of missed chances in the first leg against Grasshopper, and even after grabbing that much sought-after away goal, were left with a bitter taste in their mouths when they conceded right at the death to lose 2-1.

Abraham Gneki Guie, whose second half goal in Switzerland leaves Apollon with plenty of hope, is likely to be joined by a second striker up front as Pedro Emanuel looks to set out his stall from the offset.

It remains to be seen whether that man is captain Fotis Papoulis who has been out injured for quite some time but is hoping to make the squad for the Thursday’s crunch game.

While Apollon have had a week to prepare solely for the big match ahead, Grasshopper kicked off their domestic league campaign with a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Luzern and the Limassol side will look to seize on both the tired legs and the low morale of their guests.

AEK’s big challenge in Russia kicks off at 7.30pm Cyprus time while Apollon’s mission to come back from behind against Grasshopper begins at 8pm.

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