Cyprus champions APOEL returned home in the early hours of Wednesday morning following their narrow 1-0 defeat at the hands of FC Copenhagen at the Parken stadium in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier.
The Danes outplayed the Cyprus champions for long spells of the game and could feel harsh done by the narrow scoreline. They missed a number of chances to make the trip to Nicosia a mere formality, but instead they will have to defend their slender lead in front of APOEL’s twelfth player, their die-hard fans, who create an atmosphere known to intimidate opponents.
In the previous round against Rosenborg, and despite trailing from the first leg, APOEL fans never gave up and the Nicosia team’s three goal blitz in added time had a lot to do with their non-stop support.
However, against a much better team like Copenhagen the home crowd will be not be enough, and APOEL players need to raise their game considerably to have a realistic chance of success. With the current crop of players at the disposal of Danish coach Thomas Christiansen it looks like a mammoth task.
For yet another year the Nicosia team has failed miserably in the transfer market. Of the five new faces brought in to strengthen the side during the summer transfer period only Orlandi made the starting eleven last night, with one more, striker de Camargo coming on in the last fifteen minutes.
Spanish defender Roberto Lagos and Albanian midfielder Qazim Laci and the much trumpeted Belarussian Renan Bressan did not even make the squad.
The Belarussian has so far been the biggest disappointment. Recruited early on in the pre-season to replace de Vincenti, he has failed to impress. In the only official game he was selected for the starting eleven he was replaced at half-time after failing to make any sort of impact on the game.
This is the second consecutive year where APOEL’s dealings in the transfer market are proving catastrophic. Last year the champs brought in Bosnian midfielder Semir Stilic, Polish attacker Mateusz Piatowski, Brazilian defender Choco and the Spanish keeper Codina. The last two have both left the club without starting one official game, while Stilic and Piatowski, after a very disappointing first season, have been sidelined with APOEL searching anxiously to offload them and rid themselves of their hefty contracts.
Christiansen’s problems do not end there. Vinicius, who has been with the champions since 2013 seems to have lost confidence, while his midfield partner, the ever dependable Nuno Morais, is 32, and unable to cover every blade of grass anymore.
Up front – at least until their recent signing de Camargo can last the full ninety minutes – they will have to rely on Cypriot striker Pieros Soteriou, who despite his enthusiasm and incredible workrate, is unable to lead the line especially against teams of such quality.
APOEL though do have the tendency to defy all odds, and despite their shortcomings, they will not go down without a fight. They did it once against the Danes in 2009, and in front of an expected capacity crowd they can do it again. One thing is for certain though: the Danes will have to work hard on the night. And who knows, it may well be the men in yellow who will be rejoicing come next Wednesday just before midnight.