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Champions League Preview: APOEL (Real Madrid, Group H)

Gerry Johnston spoke with APOEL fan, @apoelnet_eng about the clubs Champions League draw and facing La Liga champions Real Madrid.

How long have you been a fan of APOEL and what made you start supporting them in the first place?

I’ve been an APOEL fan ever since I can remember. It is something that was passed on to me from my parents and something that I am grateful for. APOEL is more than a club for us. It represents a set of ideals for which we are proud.

As an APOEL fan what are your initial thoughts on the draw?

It is obviously a very tough draw. We are in one of the hardest groups, if not the hardest one. On the one hand it is great to see such big names at the GSP, but on the other hand we can’t help but feel we’d have a better chance of progressing in another group. All in all, qualifying to the UCL group stage is another great achievement for our club and we are as grateful as we are excited! These are the games we’ve always dreamed of as kids, and in the past 10 years our team has made most of our dreams come true.

Have APOEL ever played Real Madrid before? Can you think of any players who have been at both clubs?

There aren’t any players that have played for both clubs. We played Real Madrid at the quarter finals of the UCL in the 2011-2012 season, after knocking Lyon out in the previous round. We lost 0-3 at home and 5-2 in Madrid, with more than 4,000 travelling fans absolutely rocking the place! The feeling of watching our team score 2 goals in the Bernabeu is unforgettable and we look forward to experiencing it again.

When Real Madrid come to the GSP Stadium what sort of atmosphere can they expect?

An electric one! The place is going to be packed and it is going to be loud! APOEL fans are very passionate and this passion carries on to the players on the pitch. The Orange fans (APOEL Ultras) will be singing from the first minute to the last, regardless of how the game is unfolding. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is, APOEL fans always believe they can achieve the impossible. I remember seeing a sign in the stands when we played Real in 2011-2012 that said “Be UNREAL, beat REAL”.

Have APOEL done much business this summer?

We acquired Mickaël Poté (Fwd) who played in Cyprus for bitter rivals Omonia a couple of years ago, Loukas Soouza (DM) who played for AEL (a team from Limassol), Jesus Rueda (CB), Augustin Farias (DM), Tommy Oar (LW), Minas Antoniou (LW) & Andreas Makris (RW). We also had Carlao (CB) return from a brief stint at Torino. Yesterday (29/8) the club announced two more players: Praxitelis Vouros (RB) and (AM) Roland Sallai. Both are U22. Sallai in particular is considered a very promising talent and we look forward to seeing him on the pitch. But we also lost significant players such as Pieros Soteriou (to Copenhagen) and earlier in the season Tomas DeVincenti. The club may do yet one more transfer (probably involving a striker) and hopefully we’ll be able to get one in the little time that is left before the end of the transfer period.

How is Giorgos Donis likely to set the team up tactically and if everyone is fit who would be the first eleven?

Considering the magnitude of the opposition, Donis will more than likely look to secure the back before anything else. He won’t park the bus in front of goal, but every APOEL player on the pitch will have some defending to do and lots of ground to cover. He will also look to get some possession, in order to give the defence some breathing space and try to attack to give the opponents something to worry about. Donis likes to see the team play out of defence and push forward in an organised manner.

Who is the main player that Real Madrid need to stop if they are going to get a result against APOEL?

APOEL does not rely heavily on individual players and with Pieros Soteriou gone this holds true even more. Of course, this could change with the addition of a quality striker. As it stands right now, if I had to single out a player it would be (winger) Giorgos Efrem. On his day he can inflict a lot of damage, both with his passing, as well as his finishing. However, he is injured right now (shoulder) and doubtful for the away game.

What are APOEL’s expectations in the Champions League this season?

Our expectations are to hold our ground and fight in every single game. We may be up against superior opposition, but we’ve never rolled over and never will. We’ve played against other big teams in the past and managed to get something, so that’s what we expect our team to do again this season. Especially at home.

Tell us where you think the four sides will finish in the group?

The logical answer would be Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur, APOEL. However, APOEL has defied logic many times in the recent past. APOEL fans have belief in their DNA. It’s what makes us different. If we didn’t believe we wouldn’t have achieved all that we have achieved so far. We’ve beaten teams like Porto & Zenit, we drew against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and we’ve knocked out Lyon and Athletic Bilbao (in the UEL). So I believe that we’ll duke it out with Tottenham for 3rd spot.

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