APOEL dare to dream of shocking Lyon
Cyprus will be collectively holding its breath on Wednesday hoping minnows APOEL can cause a huge Champions League shock when they seek to turn around a one goal deficit to Lyon at the GSP stadium in Nicosia.
Ever since the draw for the last 16 was made, APOEL were hopeful the tie would be decided at home and the fixture is set up perfectly with the Cypriots only trailing 1-0 from the first leg.
There is certainly plenty of belief among fans and players that the biggest game in the club's history can be a triumphant one.
For underdogs APOEL to achieve the unthinkable and progress to the last eight it would be the biggest sporting success story in a very thin volume of international glory.
"The boys have made us proud to reach the last 16 but they have a chance to progress, they are one goal behind and with the fans behind them it will be a different game at home," former APOEL legend and Cyprus international Andreas Stylianou told AFP.
He said another victory would ensure that the entire continent will be talking about APOEL and Cyprus.
"It's the biggest game in Cypriot sport, we did not even dream a Cyprus club could come this far but the dream has come true and the boys can give us joy beyond expectation."
The giant killers that have lit up Europe's richest competition finished top of their group to secure an unlikely passage to the last 16 -- a feat no other Cypriot team has achieved before.
Now APOEL want to take it another magical step further after punching above their weight against more illustrious sides such as Porto and Zenit St Petersburg.
And the 23,000 mainly APOEL fans - among the most fervent in Europe -- will create a deafening atmosphere at the GSP stadium making it an uncomfortable night for favourites Lyon.
In terms of budget and status, APOEL are the smallest club left in the competition but they possess an abundance of self confidence and fanatical support from their 'orange' fans.
"When it comes to games like this money doesn't matter, APOEL have lots of heart and the supporters have helped them get this far in the competition," said life-long APOEL fan Constantinos Psyllouras, 37.
"Showing plenty of heart is what brought us here, so win or lose APOEL have done something remarkable for the club and Cyprus football in general," he added.
For the fairytale to continue a little while longer against Remi Garde's OL, APOEL will need match winning performances from their Brazilian duo -- star striker Ailton and midfield maestro Gustavo Manduca.
Ailton was still lacking match sharpness in the first leg in France while Manduca only played a cameo role after recently coming back from injury.
"This is the most important moment for the club and the biggest day in the life of the players...for this game we need everyone coming together," Manduca told the APOEL website.
As the lone forward, Ailton has scored vital goals in this competition and another strike against Lyon would be priceless.
Although not the quickest of teams, APOEL are adept at keeping possession and carving out an opening on the break, and the Brazilian number eight is crucial to this tactic.
A 700,000-euro ($920,000) buy from FC Copenhagen in 2010, Ailton scored four goals in the qualifying rounds, snatched the winner at home to Zenit in the group stage and scored in both games against Porto.
His impressive tally of seven in the competition so far began in modest surroundings in a qualifier against KS Skenderbeu in Albania last July.
In their last game, APOEL warmed up for the Lyon clash by thumping Ermis 4-1 away in the league to stay in third place.
APOEL are the most decorated team in Cypriot football. A founder member of the Cyprus Football Association, they were formed in a confectionery shop 85 years ago.
Nevertheless, fans of fierce cross-town rivals Omonia Nicosia will not be shedding too many tears if APOEL get knocked out.
"Although everyone agrees this is a big match for Cyprus some Omonia fans don't want APOEL to progress because they don't want to be the butt of APOEL jokes and also it will mean more money and prestige for their rivals," sports writer Dinos Kozakos told AFP.
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