Sandwiched between the local El Clasico at 18:00 (or El Horaitiko, as we mock it in these parts) and the original one in Spain at 20:50, tonight’s game against old foes Apollon at the Tsirion Stadium in Limassol is our first serious test of the season.
Despite our decent record at the Tsirion in the past decade, Limassol’s derelict sports ground remains the scene of some of the most bitter moments in our recent history. I was there in March 1991, feeling the fright of the stands literally shaking at every goal scored, in a sell-out 25,000 crowd that saw us lose the crucial title-decider 3-1 to Apollon, together with our hopes of being crowned champions for the first time in 28 years.
- Painful: Ketsbaia (no.10) looks on as Apollon’s Spoljaric sets the tempo in the 1994 crunch match.
Three years later we travelled there for another title-clincher with even higher expectations. Boasting Timur Ketsbaia and Sinisa Gogic in our ranks, we had been undefeated all season, playing some sparkling football along the way. Sadly, Apollon beat us again –this time 2-0– and again denied us the league title as a result. A few weeks later we reached the Cup Final at the Tsirion only to lose that as well, this time 1-0 to Omonia. In the 1999 Cup Final, we were controversially defeated 2-0 by Apoel there. Last year, we visited Tsirion five times without winning once, a last-minute equaliser by an indifferent Apollon on the final day of the regular season being the most painful of all.
We have, however, had many memorable moments there too. Our most recent was an amazing 10-man escape in the 2007-08 title-winning season. Anton Zlogar made it 2-2 right at the death, the first sign that that would be our year.
A year later, former Real Madrid star Savio produced this moment of magic to give us a 2-1 victory.
Expectations for tonight’s game are quite high. Having scored 11 goals in four games, our attack is in great form. Ronny Levy’s concerns, however, lie elsewhere. Boaventura’s heart incident and subsequent retirement means that we’re now short of quality at both defensive flanks. Marko Andjic may be a bulldog of a player, but his frequent lapses of concentration at right-back have often proved too costly. Valentinos Shelis, who got the nod to fill Boa’s shoes on the left last week, lacks experience in that position and is often prone to reckless fouling.
Levy is not expected to deviate from his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation in order to adapt the system to the players available; neither is he expected to make any changes to last week’s starting line-up. In last week’s post-match interview he stated that he was perfectly happy with Shelis’ performance, which means the young Cypriot will be given the left-back birth for tonight’s game as well. Moreover, the Jorge-Ilic central defensive pair has performed exceptionally well together so far, so it is unlikely that Levy will move Ilic to the right-back slot in order for Andjic to play on the left -like he did many times last year- and bring Colin back as Jorge’s defensive partner. The only possible change may be made in midfield, where Laban may start instead of Alexa. In attack, Laborde, Rezek, and Calvo will form the triumvirate, with top-scorer Spadacio once again playing in the hole.
Apollon are a decent team who like to press high but lack that killing instinct. Handing them the initiative at the beginning and hitting them on the break with the lightning-fast Laborde may be risky, but as we showed against Alki it may work wonders. Whatever the tactics though, thrilling game is on the cards.
Follow me on Twitter: