It was arguably the greatest night in Cypriot football as APOEL Nicosia, the Champions League minnows that were not even given a prayer, achieved mission impossible by making the quarter finals.
APOEL became the first Cypriot team in Champions League history to reach the last eight when they beat Lyon of France 4-3 on penalties after the tie finished 1-1 on aggregate.
So who are they, really?
You may have guessed this already but APOEL are the most successful team in Cyprus, with 21 domestic championships and 31 national cups to their name. Despite this success in their homeland – it has still been a shock to the football world that they have made it so far in the prestigious European Cup.
APOEL, one of the most important football clubs in Cyprus, was founded on 8th November 1926 by George Poulias, A. Artemi, Chr. Piki, Chr. Simeonides, Chr. Carditsas and Oth. Kyriakides. These were a group of people who loved football and had the desire to be part of Cyprus Sports Life and contribute to it. The translation of APOEL stands for Athletic Football Club of Greeks of Nicosia.
APOEL’s home is the largest stadium in Cyprus holding 22,859. The GSP Stadium is also shared by local rivals Omonia and Olympiakos Nicosia. APOEL raked in 22,537 for their second leg triumph over Lyon.
Their run in the Champions League so far:
The Cypriot team didn’t have the easiest of groups in the Champions League either. They were pitted against reigning Europa League Champions Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and Shakhtar Donetsk. APOEL would have been expected to go back home with the wooden spoon prize and were considered by many to be the whipping boys of the group. How wrong can you be? The Cypriots finished top of their group, knocking Porto and Shakhtar out on their way. Some feat.
Do they have a chance against Real Madrid or Barcelona?
Make no mistake; this is a fairytale of the highest order. No-one expected APOEL to even make it past the qualification stages of the Champions League let alone the last eight so of course there is a chance. But when you have Jose Mourinho’s Real running away in La Liga and the world’s greatest footballer Lionel Messi playing for Barca, it seems like an impossible task. But then again, hasn’t all of this seemed impossible?
Football has always been considered to be a ‘funny old game’ and this fairytale story proves that theory. Who would have thought that back in July when APOEL travelled to Albania to face Skënderbeu that they would have come this far?
For now the dream continues for the Cypriots. They can continue to party away and celebrate their unbelievable success – and if you ask me, they have more than earned it. I wonder if this fairytale has a happy ending…
London, United Kingdom
Photo: George M. Groutas
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