The small Mediterranean island of Cyprus joins the European footballing superpowers of Spain, Italy, Germany, England, France and Portugal as being represented in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.
On Tuesday night the capital city of Nicosia will be rocking, again, as APOEL Nicosia face their toughest test yet, against Jose Mourinho’s, La Liga leaders, Real Madrid. Against Lyon, the GSP stadium held 22,700 spectators, which means that approximately one in 14 of Nicosia’s inhabitants were at the game. This would be the equivalent of six full Wembley stadiums in London.
It is party time in Cyprus but the sheer scale of this task is enough for the Adidas slogan of ‘Impossible is Nothing’ to be rethought. Real Madrid have scored over three times the amount of goals APOEL has in this season’s Champions League, with 24 goals in eight games. Furthermore, Real have had 120 attempts on goal during those eight games compared to Cypriots’ 40 in 14 games. This David v Goliath match up is not just based on pure football. It’s astonishing to think that APOEL have made it this far when their total operating costs for the year are €7m compared to Cristiano Ronaldo alone, who costs Real €13m per year.
APOEL’s Serbian coach, Ivan Jovanovic, has admitted that “the perfect game may not be enough. You could say that this match is unique for a club like APOEL. Real are one of the greatest teams in the world and perhaps this encounter is a good chance for us to see how we can fare playing against such a massive club. The differences between the two sides are the name and the strength of the clubs. Real want to lift the Champions League trophy. We know how strong they are and how much superiority they have over us. We need to stay focused, determined and confident and to play good football tomorrow. We need to show that we deserve to be playing at this level.”
A difficult task is made all the more challenging with the suspension of star man Gustavo Manduca, who serves his one match ban after receiving two yellows cards in the recent win over Lyon. In contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo is in buoyant mood after re-writing the La Liga history books on the weekend. Ronaldo became the fastest player to reach 100 La Liga goals, as he achieved this feat in 92 games compared to the previous record set by the Real Madrid and Hungarian Great Ferenc Puskas – who himself reached 100 goals in 105 games.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has said that he expects a hard night in Nicosia. “We are the favourites, that is undeniable, and the two sides cannot be compared when it comes to finance and history but football is football. We have studied them well and we respect them. APOEL are a balanced unit and although some may feel that is not important, I certainly do. We know this game will be hard but we expect the return leg to go smoother for us. To win tomorrow would give us a good advantage but it will be difficult to put the tie beyond doubt in the first leg.”
APOEL drew 0-0 on the weekend against arch-rivals Onomia Nicosia. APOEL are currently in third place domestically. Meanwhile Real strengthened their grip at the top of La Liga by thrashing Real Sociedad 5-1 at the Bernabeu.
In the other quarter-finals, Benfica host Chelsea, Bayern Munich travel to Marseille and Milan host favourites and defending champions Barcelona. Glamour ties all round at the business end of the Champions League.