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Europa League

Apoel looking to seal qualification in icy Astana

Cyprus champions Apoel will qualify for the Europa League knockout stages with a win in Kazakhstan

Sub-zero temperatures and a tricky surface await Apoel as they look to book their place in the last 32 of the Europa League on Thursday against Astana in Kazakhstan.

The Cypriot champions, who lead the way in Group B after four games, will seal a historic passage to the knockout stages with a victory. Yet, even if they do not manage to do so, Young Boys’ failure to win away at Olympiacos hours later will also see them through.

Thomas Christiansen will be keen to wrap up proceedings without needing favours from elsewhere, but the Apoel manager will have to do so without three members of the usual first team squad, as Facundo Bertoglio, Andrea Orlandi and Giorgos Merkis miss out through injury.

The Dane will also have some selection headaches going into the game, as the rejuvenated Stathis Aloneftis will be pushing for a starting berth up against Giorgos Efrem and Giannis Gianniotas out on the left wing.

The squad arrived in Astana on Tuesday, earlier than they usually do for European matches, in order to prepare for the extreme weather conditions as well as an unfamiliar surface.

Temperatures reached as low as -30 degrees Celsius in the Kazakh city earlier in the week, putting the match in doubt as Uefa regulations state that a game cannot be played in -15 degrees or less. However, the temperature has been rising of late, and the match is more than likely to go ahead as first planned.

While the Astana Arena is a state of the art ground, it often proves difficult for foreign sides to play on due to its artificial astro turf surface. This was a key reason as to why Apoel arrived two days before the game, as it gave them the chance to train on the pitch on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

One of the dangermen that the Apoel backline will have to keep a close eye on is Astana forward Patrick Twumasi.
Asked about what he wanted from the game, the Ghanaian was clear: “A win against Apoel, that is what we expect. We have the advantage (at home) and we must use it in our favour, and do everything possible,” said the 22-year-old.

“The opponent, after a long journey, will find it tough. We must exploit this advantage, do our job to the best of our abilities and give 100 per cent,” he concluded.

Astana have a solid home record, having lost just one match in 2016 in front of their own supporters and Apoel traditionally find it extremely difficult on the road in Europe, with their recent win at Olympiacos their first ever continental victory away from home beyond qualifying rounds.

The two sides have some recent history, as they clashed in the Champions League playoff round at the start of the 2015-16 season. Astana won 1-0 in Kazakhstan before equalising late on in Cyprus to knock Apoel out the competition. However, Apoel currently hold the bragging rights after their 2-1 win over Astana at the GSP Stadium in September.

The match kicks off at an earlier than usual 6pm Cyprus time, due to Astana’s vast time difference of five hours with central Europe. Should Apoel not win, fans of the Nicosia giants will have to wait until nearly midnight Cyprus time (or 4am the next morning if they are in Kazakhstan) to see if Olympiacos help them over the line by preventing Young Boys from winning in Piraeus.

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