THE APOEL Nicosia dream continues, with the Cypriot side set to show European football what they are all about when they take on Lyon in the last 16 of the Champions’ League.
You do not instantly think of Cyprus when talking about the top leagues in Europe, but it will be a big change for Nicosia when they go head to head with French giants Lyon, rather than the likes of AEK Larnaca, Anorthosis and local rivals Omonia Nicosia.
Their Champions League journey has been quite remarkable this season, having beaten Skenderbeu Korce, Slovan Bratislava and Wisla Krakow in qualifying, the Cypriot side finished on top of a group containing 2010-11 Europa League winners Porto, 2008-09 UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg.
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Lyon go into the game with something to prove, having been the victims of a shock defeat to Caen at the weekend.
Remi Garde’s side missed the chance to go third in the league after their embarrassing slip-up against the struggling Caen. The opportunity to put things right with a first leg win on Tuesday night will surely not be one they can afford to pass up.
Indeed, it is testament to the growing strength of French football that a side like Lyon, who have reached the last 16 of the Champions’ League in each of the past nine seasons, are not running away with the domestic title this season.
They only happen to be in the knock-out stages of the Champions’ League thanks to a freak result, however. Going into the final round of group fixtures, they looked set to finish in third place, but a massive 7-1 win over Dinamo Zagreb saw them leap-frog Ajax on goal difference.
Lyon coach Garde has seen his squad hit by injuries this season, and has been forced to call upon some of his younger players. It now looks as though he will be required to call upon 18-year-old Samuel Umtiti following the injury to Croatian defender Dejan Lovren.
It all sets up what should be a fascinating game. Lyon will no doubt be the favourites, but who knows, this could be one for the underdogs.