Three Cypriot sides are looking to lay down a positive marker in their Europa League second qualifying round opening leg match-ups on Thursday night.
AEK and AEL, who cruised into the second round with big aggregate wins over Gibraltarian sides, are joined by Cyprus Cup winners Apollon.
First up on Thursday night are Apollon themselves, who take on Moldovan outfit FC Zaria at 8pm Cyprus time at the AEK Arena.
Vice-president of the Limassol club, Phanos Kinnis, said that Zaria are “a very good team. They cannot be underestimated and our manager knows that very well”.
“We are not 100 per cent ready,” he admitted. “We are aiming to freshen up the team after the first stage of pre-season and we will be more ready ahead of Thursday’s game,” he concluded.
Apollon’s last European home game was in last season’s Europa League third qualifying round, drawing 3-3 against Grasshopper in Nicosia, a result that was ultimately not enough to overturn the 2-1 deficit from the first leg.
Kicking off at 8.45pm are AEL Limassol, who are in Luxembourg to face FC Progres Niedercorn. AEL saw off St. Joseph’s in the first round with a 10-0 aggregate win, but will be aware that they cannot relax against their hosts. That is because Progres pulled off the shock of the round by defeating Scottish giants Rangers 2-1 on aggregate, thanks to a 2-0 home victory last week.
Due to the euphoria of the previous round, the Luxembourg side are expecting a sold out Stade Municipal de Differdange in hope of a similar upset against AEL.
Last up is AEK’s visit to the Republic of Ireland to face Cork City at 9.45pm. The Larnaca club, like AEL, made light work of Gibraltarian opposition, with a 6-1 aggregate victory over Lincold Red Imps. Cork City also comfortably disposed of their first round opponent Levadia by a 6-2 total scoreline.
Though AEK are favourites to progress, it must be noted that Cork go into the tie in a much more prepared state, as their domestic campaign is still going and have been almost perfect throughout the year.
Of their 24 matches in all competitions, they have won 23 and drawn one, with a perfect 12 for 12 record on home soil, meaning that Imanol Idiakez’s side must be on their game if they are to get a positive result.