APOEL will be out for revenge when they host Astana in their opening Europa League group game at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia on Thursday (8pm), after the Kazakhstani side denied them a spot in last year’s Champions League group stage.
Last August, the Cypriots were six minutes away from taking their Champions League playoff to extra-time but Nemanja Maksimovic’s strike stunned the home crowd, and the game still remains fresh in the minds of both the players and supporters.
One person who was not part of that experience was APOEL boss Thomas Christiansen, who will be taking charge of his first European group stage match. The Danish coach has all of his players available for selection, one of whom is the club’s latest signing, Facundo Bertoglio.
Big things are expected of the Argentine attacking midfielder, but it remains uncertain as to whether he is match fit to start on Thursday, having made just two substitute appearances this campaign.
Astana remain under the same management as last year, with former Anorthosis boss Stanimir Stoilov at the helm. Seemingly content with his squad, Stoilov has added just two new signings over the summer in Konstantin Engel and Igor Shitov.
As was the case last year against Astana, it was a 1-1 home draw in the Champions League playoff round that saw APOEL miss out on making the group stage against Copenhagen. Since that result, the Nicosia club have responded well, winning their opening two league matches against Ermis and Salamina, scoring seven and conceding none.
The Kazakhstan Premier League is in its latter stages, and Astana currently top the division. However, last Saturday’s game will not have done any good for morale. Astana were seven points clear of second-placed Kairat ahead of kick-off and, though several players were rested with APOEL in mind, a 4-1 loss at home to their rivals was certainly not on the cards.
APOEL press officer Nektarios Petevinos spoke to Super Sport FM where he discussed the upcoming match, which he believes will play a key part in determining whether his side can progress to the knockout stages.
“It is an important game for our future in the competition; I would describe it as crucial. There is Olympiacos, and from then on three other teams who will fight for second place,” said Petevinos.
“This year, we want to start our campaign differently, with a win. Each win you manage at home counts double. We must take full advantage of playing at home,” he concluded.
Club president Prodromos Petrides also gave his thoughts, highlighting APOEL’s proven capability of competing in Europe.
“It will be a big step for Cyprus. We see how difficult it is for the national team against other international sides,” Petrides told Cytavision. “APOEL, without trying to imply anything, stands much more dignified in any competition it competes in. We will try to honour APOEL and Cypriot football.”
In European qualifying so far this campaign, APOEL have beaten The New Saints and Rosenborg 3-0, before drawing 1-1 against Copenhagen. In the Europa League groups last year, they recorded just one win – against Asteras Tripolis at home – and lost the other five, and will therefore be looking for a good start to serve as a springboard for a more successful campaign.