Cyprus champions Apoel begin their European journey for the new season with a trip to Montenegro to face FK Sudjeska in the first leg of the second qualifying round of the Champions League.
Sudjeska were surprise winners in the previous round as they knocked out Slovakian champions Slovan Bratislava in a penalty shootout after the two sides were level 2-2 on aggregate after 210 minutes of football.
Like Bratislava, Apoel were also victims of a first round exit last year against footballing minnows FK Suduva of Lithiania and they will be looking to avoid a similar embarrassment.
Paolo Trammezzani’s Apoel side has gone through yet another major overhaul during the summer transfer period, bringing in eleven new faces and releasing nine players.
One star who will not be wearing the yellow and blue of Apoel is former captain Nuno Morais, who after 12 successful years at the club, was deemed surplus to requirements by the club’s management.
Alef, formerly of Limassol rivals Apollon, was brought in to fill the void left by the former Apoel captain, while upfront, the Nicosia team brought in two new faces – Andrija Pavlovic and Linus Hallenius – hoping that they can take some of the pressure off Moussa Al Tamaari who last season almost single-handedly won games for Apoel.
The most notable addition to the squad this year is Serbian defender Vujadin Savic who captained the Red Star Belgrade team last year in their impressive Champions League group games against the likes of eventual winners Liverpool, French champions PSG and Napoli.
In their four pre-season friendlies so far, Apoel did well against a strong Shakhtar Donetsk side, winning by a solitary goal, but in their three other games, they were poor and lacked any incisiveness in the final third despite a lot of possession.
Trammezzani knows that it will be considered a disaster if his team fails to get past the Montenegran champions, putting his job at risk. A few groans have already begun coming from Apoel fans (and a former Apoel club president) against the Italian, who they feel forced Morais into retirement and also accuse him of marginalising players who have a lot to offer still, namely Cyprus international Giorgos Efraim and Ghayas Zahid, who is on the verge of a loan deal to Greek side Panathinaikos.
Sudjeska, have competed five times in European competitions, twice in the Champions League and three times in the Europa League, recording just one win and losing six of their ten European games.
Even in this season’s first round against Slovan Bratislava, Sudjeska rode their luck and managed to stay alive thanks to two goals in added time in both legs.
The game will be played at the Stadion Gradski Niksic that has a capacity of just over 5,200. The kick-off is at 9.15pm.
The winner of this tie will meet the winner of Dundalk v Qarabag FK in the third qualifying round.