APOEL kicked-off their Europa League campaign in perfect fashion two weeks ago but face arguably the toughest fixture in Group B on Thursday, as they travel to Greece to face Olympiacos.
The Cyprus champions defeated Kazakhstan’s Astana 2-1 at the GSP Stadium in their opening game, but facing the group favourites in their own back yard will be a different proposition.
One man who will be eager to prove a point is APOEL winger Giannis Gianniotas who is on loan from Olympiacos. The Greek international has been a revelation since joining the Nicosia outfit in January, and will be looking to show his parent club what they are missing.
Ivan de Camargo, who grabbed the late winner against Astana will not be at the disposal of Thomas Christiansen through injury, neither will Andrea Orlandi.
For Olympiacos, Spanish full-back Alberto De La Bella is not at 100 per cent match fitness but could still make the starting line-up, while German winger Marko Marin is still touch-and-go, and it remains to be seen whether he will feature from the start or not.
APOEL press officer Nektarios Petevinos told Greek radio station Sport FM that he sees a recent coming of age within the ranks.
“We are a young side, but we have shown that we have matured in recent times,” said Petevinos. “We are at a level which could help us to achieve our goals and we hope to have the quality to cope with Olympiacos, who are favourites to win the group”.
Around 1,800 APOEL supporters are expected to be present at the Karaiskakis Stadium, and Petevinos believes the club could have sold far more tickets if they had been allocated more seats.
“The 1,800 tickets that we were given have run out, and there are still many of our fans in Athens who would like to go to the stadium. We would have needed another 1,800 tickets to serve our fans.”
Olympiacos boss Paulo Bento was asked whether he believed APOEL have the benefit of having many players who are familiar with Greek football.
“I do not believe that is the case,” the Portuguese boss refuted. “The most important thing is for us to be loyal to our ideas and strategy. Sometimes you know more, sometimes you know less about your opponent. We want to remain loyal to our way of playing and our game plan and we will respect APOEL like any other opponent”.
Since APOEL’s win over Astana two weeks ago, Christiansen’s side have beaten Anagennisi Deryneias 2-0, drawn with Anorthosis 0-0 away and, most recently, won 3-0 at Aris.
However, their away struggles in Europe are well documented: APOEL are yet to win an away match in European competition, excluding qualifiers.
The Olympiacos camp is hardly in high spirits going into Thursday’s game following a 92nd-minute defeat to Larissa in Sunday’s league game.
There is still an unsavoury atmosphere surrounding the club for the way they crashed out of the Champions League qualifiers in the third round at the hands of Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, and the recent league defeat will only add more tension to the match against APOEL.
The game kicks-off at 10.05pm in Piraeus, where another positive result for APOEL would demonstrate that they are capable of finishing in the top two places of the group.