Apoel host Young Boys at the GSP Stadium in Nicosia on Matchday 4 of the Europa League in a crucial encounter which could have a major impact on their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the competition.
The Swiss side beat the Cypriot champions 3-1 a fortnight ago but a win for Apoel, who are joint-top of Group B with Olympiacos on six points, would result in a massive step towards the next round. A defeat however, would see the visitors overtake them in the standings.
Giorgos Efrem’s wonderful lob gave Apoel a surprise early lead at the Stade de Suisse in the reverse fixture but they were quickly pegged back before two second-half penalties, one scored via a rebound, made it a resounding win for the hosts and, in turn, blowing Group B wide open once again.
As far as team news goes, Saturday’s draw against Aek Larnaca saw the return of Igor de Camargo from injury and the Belgian is back in contention to start in the lone striking role.
Regular starter Facundo Bertoglio began on the bench in the top of the table clash but is expected to regain his starting role on Thursday, while it remains to be seen if Giannis Gianniotas gets back into the line-up after being left out against Young Boys two weeks ago.
Spirits remain high in the Apoel camp despite that defeat to Thursday’s opponents, as Thomas Christiansen’s side’s 1-1 draw in Larnaca on Saturday saw them preserve their unbeaten start to the league campaign.
The Nicosia giants remain in top spot in their Europa League group due to their two wins in their opening matches over Astana and Olympiacos and, at the GSP Stadium, they have not lost a game in all competitions since January 3 – a 2-1 defeat to Doxa.
Young Boys had been on a run of five consecutive draws before beating Apoel, but that 3-1 victory evidently boosted their confidence and they have since been in rampant form. Their last three matches have all resulted in victories in which they have scored 14 goals and conceded none, including 4-0 and 5-0 wins in the league and cup over Grasshopper, the side that knocked Apollon out of the Europa League in the qualifying stages.
Guillaume Hoarau scored a hat-trick against Apoel and has grabbed a further three goals since then, meaning that the big striker arrives on the island in scintillating form.
However, Apoel will be feeling more confident of their chances of containing the 32-year-old with Carlao back to full fitness. The commanding Brazilian centre-back was forced off through injury early in the second half in Switzerland, which quickly led to Apoel’s downfall.
Elsewhere, fans of the Cypriot club will be paying close attention to Group B’s other encounter between Astana and Olympiacos.
The Kazakhstani side, who are the hosts on Thursday, are bottom of the group on just one point while the Greeks are level with Apoel on six.
The match at the GSP Stadium kicks off at 8pm Cyprus time and a huge turnout is expected for an evening which could leave Apoel within touching distance of the knockout phase of the competition.