After 14 long years, Omonia are finally facing a Premier League team in Europe again.
In 2008, the opponent was Manchester City, in the group stage of the Uefa Cup.
Far from the supposed glory and trophies that were going to fill the club’s cabinets in the years to come, by then the team was in a financially precarious position and it took two hard-fought games to see Omonia off.
This time, the opponent will be a much tougher one. Despite falling behind their ‘noisy neighbours’ in recent years, the Red Devils coming to Cyprus for the Europa League clash (19.45 kick-off) is huge news and fans can hardly contain their excitement.
“I was praying to be drawn with Manchester United back in August,” Kyriacos, an Omonia fan for over 20 years, told the Cyprus Mail.
“It’s crazy, I actually studied in Manchester and went to several United games at Old Trafford at the time. Never would I have thought to see my team facing the mighty Red Devils one day.”
Omonia manager Neil Lennon said he feels the fans’ anticipation and claimed that, knowing the level of support behind the team, “you could sell out our stadium three times over.
“GSP Stadium holds about 25,000 so you can imagine the excitement it’s going to bring. For our players, playing Manchester United home and away is the experience of a lifetime,” the manager told The Sun.
“They do make a lot of noise our fans, they will have fireworks and all the other pyrotechnics. Everyone will be excited for it. So, obviously the players will be ready and they will not need extra motivation.
“We have nothing to lose. United will be looking to bounce back from their loss in the Manchester derby, but we will do our best to prevent that from happening.
“Cypriot football does not have a great reputation, but I can assure the level is very high and we want to show it to everyone on Thursday,” Lennon said.
The Northern Irish coach has already beaten Manchester United when he was playing for Celtic back in 2006. A sensational free-kick by Japanese midfielder Shunshuke Nakamura was enough to beat the Red Devils in Glasgow and send Celtic to the Champions League knockout stage.
“I remember that day and I even remember Lennon, he was as tough as nails,” Gary, a Manchester United fan who travelled to Cyprus for Thursday’s game told the Cyprus Mail.
“He was a very good player and he’s gained quite a reputation as a coach. Realistically, we should win, but there are no more easy games in European football anymore.”
Gary said he came to Cyprus a number of times with his family for holidays, but it is the first time he has made the trip for a football match.
“It’s surreal. When we were drawn with Omonia I started laughing and I thought to myself that it will be a new feeling to be on the island for a game and not just on holiday. I am looking forward to it,” he said.
Manchester United fans, in the meantime, have taken up almost every available room in Nicosia.
The Cyprus Hoteliers Association on Wednesday said hotels are turning down accommodation requests, as they are fully booked ahead of the match.
Around 2,000 Red Devils fans have already booked a room at a Nicosia hotel. The club recently announced that it was given 1,100 tickets, equal to five per cent of the GSP Stadium’s 22,300 capacity.
The players, meanwhile, will be the first guests at the newly-launched Radisson Beach Resort, Larnaca’s newest luxury hotel.