Apoel meet FC Basel in Nicosia on Thursday night in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie looking to establish an advantage over the Swiss side ahead of next week’s decisive leg at St Jakob’s Park.
The Cyprus champions will be hoping for a repeat of their 2016-2017 triumph when they knocked out Athletic Bilbao 4-3 on aggregate at the same stage of the competition to reach the last 16.
This will only be Marinos Ouzounides’ second game in charge since replacing Kare Ingebrigtsen in the Apoel hotseat.
In his first game in the dugout against fellow championship contenders Apollon last Saturday, Ouzounides managed to galvanise his players resulting in a thoroughly convincing 4-1 win, and this despite having a host of players unavailable either through injury or suspension.
Nicholas Ioannou and Dragan Mihajlovic have been declared fit for Thursday’s fixture but there are still question marks over the fitness of Souza, Efraim, Aloneftis and Icelandic international Bjorn Siguroarson.
The only player certain to miss the game is Serbian Vujadin Savic who is suspended after picking up his third yellow card in the last group game against Sevilla.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday evening, Ouzounides said: “It would have been better to play the first leg away, but it is what it is. The most important thing is to have the crowd behind us as it’s like having an extra player.
“The main aim is to win the game and if we can do so without conceding, even better.”
When asked what tactics he’ll use, he continued: “We want to be balanced as Basel are very good in transition so we must be patient with the ball and in our movement off the ball.
“We’ve studied Basel in-depth this season. They might not be a spectacular team but they can hurt you as they have talented and experienced players.”
This will be Basel’s second visit to Cyprus in consecutive seasons. Last year they came up against Apollon but were eliminated from the group stages on the away goals rule. This was the first time in 15 years that Basel failed to progress to the group stages of a European competition.
Basel are currently third in the Swiss championship, five points behind leaders Young Boys and St Gallen, with their coach Marcel Koller coming under immense pressure in recent weeks as his team has lost four of their last five games.
In their last domestic match over the weekend they lost at home to bottom of the table FC Thun.
In that game Koller also lost Luca Zuffi to injury while in their last training session before travelling to Cyprus Edon Zhegrova pulled out with a thigh strain as well.
Koller though hopes to have Kevin Bua back in action after he missed the weekend game through a niggling injury while 20-year-old Angolan striker Afimico Pululu is also pushing for a place in the starting line-up.
The game at the GSP stadium starts at 10pm and will be officiated by Israeli referee Orel Grinfeeld.