Cyprus Mail
Champions League

Apoel host Qarabag in crucial Champions League qualifier

Serbian striker Andrija Pavlovic grabbed a hat-trick in the previous round, with Apoel now facing a step up in quality against the Azeri champions

Cyprus champions Apoel face Qarabag FK in the third qualifying round of the Champions League on Tuesday night (8pm) at the GSP stadium in Nicosia.

Should Apoel overcome the Azeris over two legs they will be guaranteed at least a place in the group stages of the Europa League, something that will help them balance their books for the season.

Failure to do so may mean Apoel will need to offload their more valuable assets like Jordanian Moussa Al Tamari and young Cypriot defender Nicholas Ioannou.

Qarabag though are no pushovers having won the league in Azerbaijan five years on the trot as well as competing uninterruptedly for the past five seasons in the group stages of either the Europa or Champions League.

Their coach Gurban Gurbanov has been with the club since 2008 and at the age of just 47 is already the most successful Azeri coach with nine league and cup wins.

The majority of his players are homegrown, but over the past few years he has added overseas players of quality and experience to his squad.

Their midfield play is dictated by Spaniard Michel, with over 300 appearances to his name in top leagues like the Primera Division and the Premiership, and Croatian international Filip Ozobic.

Summer signing Magaye Gueye has been added to add some firepower up front having played before for Strasbourg, Everton and Millwall amongst other teams.

During the pre-game press conference Gurbanov admitted that that he knows very little about the current Apoel team as ‘they made a lot changes to their squad during the summer and we really don’t know what to expect’ but concluded, ‘whatever the case, we expect a tough game today’.

After a rather mediocre first leg game against FK Sudjeska in the previous round, Apoel improved considerably in the return fixture and totally outplayed the Montenegrins in Nicosia with their new boys hitting the headlines.

Serbian striker Andrija Pavlovic grabbed a hat-trick while his fellow countryman Vujadin Savic was imperious at the back in only their first full game of the season.

However there is a major concern for Apoel coach Paolo Tramezzani as his star player, the nimble-footed Al Tamaari is struggling to shake off a hamstring strain sustained a week ago against FK Sudjeska.

Tramezzani will wait until the last minute to decide on whether to start Al Tamaari, with Apoel sources saying that his chances of making the starting line-up are 50-50. The Italian ‘revealed’ that should Taamari not make the starting eleven he will have to switch to a 3-4-3 formation, instead of his more favoured 3-5-2.

Even if Al Tamaari is not deemed fit for the game, Tramezzani has a number of other options with Swedish striker Hallenius his most likely replacement.


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