APOEL cling to dream against mighty Real

APOEL Nicosia have been besieged by fans desperate for tickets for Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at home to Real Madrid but even the club’s most ardent supporters know this will be the toughest test yet in their fairytale season.

Record nine-times winners Real are big favorites to end APOEL’s stunning run in becoming the first Cypriot side to reach the last eight of any European competition, not that the APOEL faithful care about the threat of defeat.

Chairman Phivos Erotocritou has apologised after thousands waited for tickets on Thursday but only a handful managed to get their hands on the prized asset.

“It is truly shameful what happened, with the hassle we imposed on so many thousands of people with a wrong decision we made,» Erotocritou was quoted as saying by the Cyprus Mail.

“I won’t try to justify the unjustifiable. We have responsibility, we did not handle this matter with the tickets the way we should have. I truly apologize and say sorry to everyone.”

The scramble for tickets follows APOEL’s strong showings in the 23,000-capacity GSP Stadium during the competition with a motley mix of journeymen from around the world really making Cyprus home.

However, a goalless draw against city rivals Omonia Nicosia on Friday suggested APOEL are not in the best of form.

Even though Omonia played the whole second half with 10 men, APOEL failed to create any good chances with their mind probably on Tuesday’s game.

Coach Ivan Jovanovic will be without suspended Brazilian Gustavo Manduca, whose early goal was vital in the last-16 triumph against Lyon three weeks ago.

The Serbian will have the rest of the squad at his disposal.

APOEL fans are banking on Greek goalkeeper Dionisios Chiotis, whose heroics have been a crucial part of their dogged defence this term and who was in the AEK Athens team which drew twice against Real in 2002.

Real return to European competition after a poor run in La Liga when two straight draws slashed their lead over second-placed Barcelona to six points and coach Jose Mourinho was sent off in a bad-tempered 1-1 stalemate at Villarreal last week.

The controversial Portuguese, dismissed for criticizing the referee, is due to speak to the media for the first time since then at Monday’s news conference in Nicosia.

The last time he visited Cyprus, his then Inter Milan side drew 3-3 against Anorthosis Famagusta in the 2008 group stage, so he knows not to underestimate Cypriot football.

Mourinho was banned from the bench when Real crushed Real Sociedad 5-1 in La Liga on Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema each scoring twice and Gonzalo Higuain also finding the net.

Real will be without influential midfielder Xabi Alonso on Tuesday after the Spain international picked up a yellow card in the round of 16 second-leg win against CSKA Moscow.

With Lassana Diarra injured, Esteban Granero is likely to slot in alongside Sami Khedira in the holding midfield role. [Reuters]

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