VAR to be used for the first time in Cyprus
Apoel take on the Dutch superstars of Ajax in Nicosia for the first leg of the Champions League playoffs in what can be dubbed as a David v Goliath battle. The side that manages to progress will play in the group stages of the tournament while the loser is guaranteed a place in the group stages of the less glamorous Europa League.
This will be the second game for Apoel with Thomas Doll at the helm following the departure of the Italian Paolo Tramezzani. In his first game in charge, Doll managed to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the home leg with a spirited 2-0 win in Azerbaijan against FK Qarabag.
However Doll is well aware of the threat that last years Champions League semi-finalists will pose.
Despite losing their captain Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus and their star midfielder Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona Ajax still possess players that can split open any team. Dušan Tadić, who took the captain’s armband from de Light, has carried on from where he left off last year scoring at will while Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and Donny van de Beek would be in the starting line-up of most top European teams.
Despite their apparent superiority the Dutch champions will not take the game lightly. Right after their weekend 4-1 win over Venlo, Tadić said that his team will now concentrate on their game against Apoel. ‘Ajax belongs in the Champions League, the pressure is on us but we have to go through’ he concluded.
This (pressure), and perhaps the high temperatures expected during the game, will be the only things working in Doll’s favour.
With the quality the Dutch team possesses Apoel will need a near perfect game to take a result to the Johan Cruyff Arena that will give them a glimmer of hope of progressing.
Doll has lost through injury Apoel’s high profile summer signings, that of Brazilian midfielder Alef and former Red Star captain defender Vujadin Savić while another defender Pantelis Vouros is also ruled out through injury.
Doll will hope that Apoel’s star player Moussa Al Taamari will be able to reproduce the form that terrorized defences last season (albeit in Cyprus) and that the defensive stand-ins Giorgos Merkis and Kevin Lafrance can keep at bay the Dutch tricky forwards.
Veteran Dutch striker Klaus-Jan Huntelaar also spoke about Apoel’s vociferous fans that create a hostile atmosphere for visiting teams but without their die-hard fans ‘the Ultras’ (due to the fan card) the atmosphere will be somewhat subdued compared to the last time Huntelaar was in Cyprus.
This was in season 2014-15 for the group stages of the Champions League with the two teams settling for 1-1 draw. In the return game in Amsterdam Ajax defeated Apoel by 4-0.