Paris Saint-Germain were tough. AFC Ajax were expected. However, the teams from Pot 4 were something of an unknown quantity. The inclusion of AS Roma meant the Group of Death was still a very real possibility – but the inclusion of teams such as APOEL Nicosia, BATE Borisov and NK Maribor meant that the Blaugrana could yet receive a fairly cushy draw. Only one question remained: who would be the final team in Group F?
I honestly swear the opening paragraph was written prior to their draw; APOEL, or Athletikos Podosferikos Omilos Ellinon Lefkosias Nicosia to give them their full name, are Cypriot champions and perennial UEFA Champions League qualifiers, whose most recent claim to fame is that they recently reached the quarter-finals stage of this very same competition. But that was 2012; Pep Guardiola was still in charge of FC Barcelona and as we well know, everything is different now; the best APOEL can reasonably hope for is to grab a few points along this year’s UCL journey.
Greek keeper, Dionisis Chiotis was between the sticks during that fairytale run to the quarter-finals but he has been displaced by Spanish shot-stopper Urko Pardo, who spent a couple of spells at FC Barcelona. A La Masia product, via Brussels, Pardo played a couple of seasons for the B team, but was never considered good enough for the senior squad and has since revived his career in the Mediterranean. Can he keep out Lionel Messi and Neymar?
Club captain and inspirational figure, it’s a matter of pride for APOEL that they managed to lure Charalambidis back to the club after his excursions in Greece and Germany. Given the tough group, APOEL will be looking to their captain for his experience and his guidance against teams like Barcelona; will he be able to inspire them to a shock result throughout the course of the group stage?
Signed earlier this month, the Algerian international has been signed to lead the line in attack and provide APOEL with the kind of firepower they will need to progress past the group stage, or more likely, challenge for that Europa League berth. After a couple of fantastic seasons at Olympiacos, Djebbour certainly has the quality to do just that.
Fresh off leading APOEL to the Cypriot league and cup double, Giorgos Donis faces the toughest test of his managerial career to date with this group; sure, he’s had European experience, but it’s limited, and nothing on earth can prepare you for a match with FC Barcelona anyway. Will Donis emerge from this year’s competition with his reputation enhanced?
Very much Pellegrini-esque would be the best way to describe APOEL’s tactics; a four-man backline, shielded by two holding midfielders with two wide/attacking midfielders behind a front two. At least, that’s how they played in their qualifier against Aalborg – expect them to take a more conservative approach against the Blaugrana, possibly switching to a five man backline, or at least dropping one of their two strikers.
History with FC Barcelona
Aside from Urko Pardo, there’s nothing – so we’re creating history folks. How exciting!
Overall, this is a good group, and shouldn’t pose an awful lot of problems. What do you think about a trip to Cyprus folks?