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Champions League Today: We Choose APOEL over Barcelona

Suman March 7, 2012 Champions League, Preview, Schedule 1 Comment

Yes, there are two more 2nd leg Round of 16 matches today, but unlike yesterday’s Super Tuesday matches, we probably won’t tune in for either of today’s two matches.  But if you must, check here & here for your local listings for today’s fixtures:

Barcelona Barcelona Leverkusen Leverkusen
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR) – Stadium: Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)
APOEL APOEL Lyon Lyon
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP) – Stadium: GSP Stadium, Nicosia (CYP)

Why not? Well, we do have other (not necessarily better; just other) things to do beside watch football on a weekday afternoon.  Moreover, the Barcelona-Bayer Leverkeusen matchup is pretty much in the bag for Barça.  They won 3-1 at the BayArena in North Rhine-Westphalia, meaning that the Werkself (“Factory squad”) will have to win by 3 goals (or win by 2 while scoring more than 3) at the Camp Nou.  Unlikely.

It will be interesting to see if  APOEL can continue their Cinderella run by overcoming a 1-0 deficit from the 1st leg in Lyon–so we’ll be tracking the score, and perhaps will tune in if it’s close in the 2nd half.  And so, in that sense, we choose APOEL over Barcelona.

For background on the Cypriot club and their Serbian manager Ivan Jovanović, read this column which ran just before their first leg match: “Apoel Nicosia’s Champions League run is not all down to Michel Platini: The Cypriot champions are now so strong they might have qualified to face Lyon without the Uefa president’s rule changes.”

An extended excerpt:

These days Apoel, an acronym for Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia, are so strong they would probably have qualified anyway but Platini’s spot of social engineering almost certainly ensured their continued involvement two seasons ago. Significantly, the cash accrued during a run which saw them finish bottom of their group – despite draws at Chelsea and Atlético Madrid – enabled Jovanovic to conduct some subtle squad strengthening.

Lyon would certainly be unwise to underestimate a team which emerged from a group also containing Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk and in so doing left Jovanovic proclaiming himself: “The happiest man in the world.”

No one could accuse the 49-year-old Serb of buying success. Although once financially challenged, Apoel are estimated to have already made around £10m from their latest European adventure. Jovanovic’s total annual budget, covering transfer fees and wages, is about £7m. Several leading European clubs barely blink before paying that sort of sum to a key player in a single year.

Aílton, Apoel’s record signing and key striker, was lured from Copenhagen by Jovanovic for around £800,000 and is now one of six Brazilians in a squad domiciled in the world’s only divided capital. While Nicosia’s Green Line separates the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyrpus from the rest of the island, international barriers do not exist at a club exuding a decidedly cosmopolitan ambience. Jovanovic’s Brazilians are among 10 nationalities contained in a dressing room also including four Portuguese players, a Paraguayan, an Argentinian, a Tunisian, a Macedonian, a Bosnian, a Spaniard, a Greek and 10 Cypriots.

“Everyone on our team is living a dream,” said Aílton, who usually operates at the apex of Jovanovic’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation which features fast-breaking converted wingers at full-back. “Everyone believes very much in what we are doing and in ourselves. We really believe we can keep winning. We respect our opponents but this team plays without fear.”

If the £350,000 a year Jovanovic’s top earners command – and most Apoel players earn considerably less – may seem, in Champions League circles at least, peanuts, a combination of ultra-mean defending and rapid counterattacking dictate that an ensemble built around the midfield partnership of the one-time Chelsea midfielder Nuno Morais and ex-Benfica trainee Hélio Pinto rarely appear country cousins.

The club founded in a baklava-filled confectionery shop inside Nicosia’s ancient Venetian walled heart in 1926 seems to be showing that, even in the absence of vast wads of cash, spirit, skill and soul can sometimes still prevail. It appears Apoel’s nickname Thrylos, or legend, was not bestowed lightly. “Apoel has proved success can be achieved on a modest budget,” said Costas Koutsokoumnis, the president of the Cyprus FA. “If you said what they’ve done was possible three years ago everyone would have said you were crazy but it’s not always a matter of how much money you spend.”

Jovanovic, an ex-professional footballer in the former Yugoslavia and Greece, has been at Apoel for four years now benefiting from an unusually – in Cypriot football circles at least – hands-off president in Fivos Erotokritou who professes to understand next to nothing about the game’s tactical nuances and allows his manager full control of transfer policy.

On-field boldness is mirrored by off-pitch innovation. Erotokritou’s vision has prompted the opening of an online Apoel shop which is seeing merchandise orders stream in from countries as far afield as Brazil and, perhaps more surprisingly, Ghana and Canada.

If you’d like to buy some Apoel gear, go ahead to that online shop–”The Orange Shop.”

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1 Comment

  1. Armando M March 8, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    My opinion is that APOEL is very similar to Boca Juniors. In case Barcelona will play against them it will not be so easy. APOEL team has different technique than central Europa. As well Barcelona. I personally support APOEL to beat any team left in UEFA champions league.
    Diego M.