Cypriot champions APOEL will be seeking to reach the group stages of the Champions League for a fourth time on Wednesday as they take a 2-0 aggregate lead to the Czech Republic to face playoff opponents Slavia Prague.
Goals from Igor de Camargo and Stathis Aloneftis inside the opening 10 minutes of the first leg in Nicosia on Wednesday has put Giorgos Donis’ side in the driving seat, despite Slavia missing a host of chances to score themselves at the GSP.
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Having failed to find a way past Astana FC and FC Copenhagen in their last two Champions League playoff ties, the Cypriot champions will be hoping it is third time lucky, although Donis is not looking too far ahead.
“The important thing is that we have a good result to take with us to Prague, but the matter over qualification is not over,” said the Greek coach – who returned to the Nicosia club this summer for a second spell following the sacking of Mario Been after just three games in charge.
“We need to come up with a plan to score in this game, too.”
APOEL, who reached the Europa League Last 16 last season, had gotten off to the perfect start when De Camargo pounced on a loose ball from Vincenzo Ebecilio’s corner to put the hosts ahead on two minutes.
Another lapse in the Slavia defence allowed Aloneftis to put his side two goals up in the tenth minute with an audacious lob over Slavia keeper Jan Lastuvka.
The Czech title holders came out of their shell after APOEL’s blistering start and missed several chances to equalise mainly through Michal Frydrych and substitute Muris Mesanovic, but were denied by the post and some excellent saves by keeper Boy Waterman.
“Heading into the second leg, I am encouraged by the fact that I have several players returning to better fitness like [George] Efrem and [Facundo] Bertoglio who played tonight [Tuesday] despite not being 100% ready,” said former Panathinaikos and Blackburn Rovers winger Donis.
“We want to play better football with the ball at our feet in the second leg and those two will help us do that.”
His counterpart, Slavia boss Jaroslav Silhavy, admits his side have it all today in Tuesday night’s clash in Prague but is not giving up hope.
“We are not giving up and I still believe we can qualify, although we made it much harder after our defeat in Nicosia.”
One player who will be looking to help reverse the deficit is new signing Miroslav Stoch – who featured in the defeat in Nicosia and started the game barely 24 hours after securing his transfer from Turkish side Fenerbahce.
“I believe that we will have chances to score in Prague just like we did in Nicosia, but we will need to take them. We are still going to fight for qualification. I do not see any reason to give up.”
Silhavy is sweating on the fitness of Simon Deli and Danny – both important players who missed the first leg in Nicosia through injury.