Giants vs. the Giant Killers. That’s how you would drub Tuesday’s Champions League clash between Real Madrid and APOEL Nicosia at the GSP Stadium.
APOEL Nicosia was a name unheard of before this season’s Champions League qualifying stages began. After two difficult qualifying rounds, few would have put their money on APOEL to survive in a group consisting of Porto, Shakhtar Donestsk and Zenit St. Petersburg. Although not the toughest group in living memory, it is always a difficult task when you have Ukraine and Russia on your travel calendar and the Estadio Dragao is always a tough place to visit.
But with 9 points and a higher goal difference, APOEL topped Group G ahead of Zenit and faced a tough clash against Lyon in the Round of 16. Even Nicosia’s biggest supporters would have felt that was the end of their Champions League journey.
After a tight first leg at the Stede Gerland where they conceded only 1 goal, Jovanovic’s boys knew that they were in with a chance at home. An early goal was all they needed!! Manduca’s ninth minute strike put Nicosia level on aggregate and they defended stubbornly to take the match into extra time and eventually penalties. Dionisios Chiotis was then the hero as he kept out two spot kicks to send APOEL into the quarterfinals thus making APOEL Cyprus’ first ever nomination in the Quarterfinals.
APOEL knew that their biggest test awaited them as they were picked to play Real Madrid in the final 8. The Spanish League leaders come to Cyprus knowing that they are in for anything but a stroll in Cyprus. The Cypriots have won five of their seven games at home this season thus making the GSP Stadium a fortress.
Real Madrid have a near perfect record in Europe this season having won seven of their eight games, their only stumble coming in Russia at CSKA Moscow with Ronaldo having registered five goals in his last four European encounters.
With a record signing fee costing only £850,000 that would put even the reserve team of Madrid to shame, Jovanovic knows that it would be his biggest test keeping the trio of Ronaldo, Higuain and Benzema at bay. Having conceded only six goals so far and having scored the same number, APOEL are a team that looks to score on the counter and Cypriots know that an advantage at home would give them utmost confidence before the return leg at the Bernebau.
Jose Mourinho has the experience of taking his team to Cyprus where his Inter drew 3-3 against Anorthosis Famagusta in 2008 while Ronaldo has also earlier 2 goals at the GSP Stadium during Portugal 4-0 victory over Cyprus in a Euro 2012 qualifier. But the Galacticos know that they will be greeted by an hostile sea of Orange on Tuesday as APOEL look to down the Goliaths of Europe.