With APOEL Nicosia, Ajax meets a club in the Champions League play-offs that amazed the football world in 2012, but since then has camped in anonymity. The Cypriot top club nevertheless hopes for a new stunt, but is extremely modest.
It was seen at the time as one of the great football wonders of the 21st century. The small APOEL that reached the quarter finals of the Champions League in the 2011/2012 season with a selection worth less than 1.5 million euros. That in two duels 2-8 was lost in that against Real Madrid did not change that.
It turned out to have been an incident for APOEL in the following years. The club, nicknamed the 'Legends', never once again made the knock-out phase of the Champions League or the Europa League (in 2014 in a group with Ajax in the CL) and was even eliminated last season in the preliminaries of both European tournaments.
"After that, APOEL has just become champion seven times in a row," says Michalis Iacovides, who follows APOEL on behalf of the Cyprus Mail newspaper. "They are still the best in Cyprus, but across the border you can't expect a miracle every year from a Cypriot club. Miracles happen only once every few years."
"If APOEL wins against Ajax, that would be a miracle. I see it as David against Goliath. Ajax is normally so much better. They provided the most entertainment in the Champions League last season. They deserved to reach the final and to win that too. Every football fan was for Ajax. "
The team of Ajax that took on APOEL Nicosia in 2014. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Ajax does not have to expect a cauldron
Ajax probably doesn't have to expect a cauldron in the GSP stadium in the first match on Tuesday. The fanatical supporters have not been in a home game since August, because the fans are angry that since last year a fan has been obliged to sit in the stands.
"I also don't know exactly why, but the fanatic supporters of APOEL, the ultras as we call them here, hate that fan. I heard that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar shouted something about a hot atmosphere at APOEL, but I doubt that this evening actually be the case, "said Iacovides.
It was pretty restless at APOEL anyway last season. The relatively inexperienced trainer Paolo Tramezzani was upset with a number of players and could not get along with technical director Domenico Teti, who appointed him at the end of 2018 after a bad start to the season.
"To the dissatisfaction of the players' group, Tramezzani kept on sticking to a 3-5-2 line-up, even though the game asked for something else. He had a very strong opinion of his own. After the winter break, he had no more than three reasons. players thrown out of the selection, "says Iacovides.
Thomas Doll took over from Paolo Tramezzani two weeks ago. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Tramezzani fired two weeks ago
Tramezzani was fired two weeks ago. He had to pack his things after the 1-2 defeat in the first match against FK Qarabag in the third qualifying round. Immediately he was succeeded by the much more sophisticated Thomas Doll, who still led to the play-offs on his debut APOEL last week thanks to a 0-2 win in the return against Qarabag.
"Doll plays in a 4-4-2 line-up", Iacovides knows. "He was lucky against Qarabag, but of course you need that too. I can't really tell if there is a difference in coaching between Tramezzani and Doll. The fact is that APOEL is a graveyard for trainers. They have in the latter had eight trainers for five years. "
APOEL seems to have resigned itself to a possible defeat against Ajax. After the escape against Qarabag, the club posted a tweet with the text 'honored and proud that we can play against Ajax, against whom we have nothing to lose'. Ajax responded with ' We're coming for you! "
"Afraid is not the right word," says Iacovides. "That would not be the right attitude. APOEL just knows that it will be incredibly difficult against Ajax. If star player Musa Al-Taamari is in shape, they might be able to do something, but securing the group stage of the Europa League is already a prize in itself for APOEL. "
The first match between APOEL and Ajax is on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in Nicosia and the return is also on Wednesday at 9 p.m. in Amsterdam. The winner of the diptych not only qualifies for the group stage of the Champions League, but also receives a premium of 15.25 million euros.
See also: 'APOEL Nicosia against Ajax is like David against Goliath'
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