Fearless APOEL hope to defy odds against Real
Published : 26 Mar 2012 11:46:49Rss feed
Plucky Cypriot history men APOEL hope to defy the odds against Spanish giants Real Madrid in Tuesday's Champions League clash to prove the romance of the cup is still alive.
Although APOEL versus Real is not a traditional glamour tie, it does sum up the David-and-Goliath essence of cup competitions where the unexpected can happen.
For so long the competition has been criticised for its domination of Europe's elite and wealthy but the Cypriot champions, who were formed in a sweet shop 85 years ago, are now bucking the trend.
"We will respect Real Madrid and make a huge effort to match them on the pitch. We are all waiting to face the best team in the world," Cypriot midfielder Nectarios Alexandrou told APOEL's website.
Few pundits gave APOEL any chance of surviving a group with Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk but they topped it to become the first Cypriot side to progress to last 16.
The team then went one better in ousting Lyon 4-3 on penalties after it being 1-1 on aggregate -- making them the only team in the last eight never to have reached this stage before.
Club captain and Cyprus international Constantinos Charalambides paid tribute to APOEL's famed "orange" fans, saying they created a perfect atmosphere to spur the team on during this fantastic journey.
"We will play 100 percent for our team, our fans, ourselves, to enjoy the game and do our best. In Europe the fans push us on a lot and they deserve that we do our best."
He said the team will play "without fear" against Real.
"We have a very good team spirit. We know what to do... Now nobody can dream this, nobody could dream we would be able to do anything like this -- we deserved it."
APOEL are ready to take the fight to record nine-time winners Real, who will be greeted by a hostile sea of orange at a packed 23,000 GSP stadium in Nicosia.
The Cypriots have punched above their weight in this competition and much of the credit must go to Serb coach Ivan Jovanovic for making his team well-organised and hard to beat.
He may not have the credentials of his much-feted Real counterpart Jose Mourinho but he has worked wonders on a budget and resources that even the Spanish club's reserve team would frown upon.
Jovanovic will seek to pack his midfield, deny Real's "Galacticos" space and hit them on the counter-attack with talisman Ailton the lone striker.
"Maybe people think: Real Madrid, we have no chance. For me it's not like this. I believe and play this game to win, as always, and I hope we can make it," said the Brazilian frontman.
Before the draw, APOEL wanted to avoid hot favourites Barcelona and Real who are also tipped as contenders to lift the trophy in Munich.
But Greek defender Savvas Poursaitidis said the Nicosia club have earned the right to try to upset the competition's most decorated side so the fairy tale can continue.
"There is no fear, we are calm. I hope everything goes well for us because we have earned the right to dream," he told APOEL's website.
Tuesday is arguably not only the biggest night in APOEL's history but a landmark for underachieving Cyprus football in general in a game that every Cypriot wants to see.
Club president Fivos Erotocritou is hoping for a positive result but win, lose or draw he argues that APOEL have already achieved the impossible.
"Even if we lose, it will be against one of the best teams in the world, so if we are eliminated it will be heads up, proud and pleased for what we had until now."
Mourinho is no stranger to Cyprus -- he took his Inter Milan team to Nicosia where they drew 3-3 with Anorthosis Famagusta in a 2008 group game.
Anorthosis were the first Cypriot club to reach the Champions League group stage.
Cristiano Ronaldo also scored two goals for Portugal at the same GSP stadium last September when his side beat Cyprus 4-0 in a Euro2012 qualifier.
Cypriot fans tried to goad the Real star by chanting Barca rival Lionel Messi's name every time he touched the ball.
He can expect a similar reception from the APOEL faithful.