It used to be that Cyprus only figured on the radar of Premier League footballers when it came to picking a good-time holiday location, infamously so in the case of Ayia Napa, but tonight the Mediterranean island comes of age as a football destination for British teams in the Champions League.
Chelsea are the first visitors and a tie that originally seemed a gentle workout ahead of Sunday's Premier League match against Liverpool has taken on a more critical aspect following their first lapse of the season, at Wigan on Saturday.
Florent Malouda last night revealed Chelsea's performance in that match provoked the first dressing-room row of the Carlo Ancelotti reign with the players tearing a strip off one another at half-time. The initial impact was positive as Didier Drogba equalised immediately after the break, but Chelsea failed to maintain that momentum and lost 3-1. That, said Ancelotti, yesterday, was not good enough and the Italian coach said he expected a better display, and result, in the GPS Stadium tonight.
That may not be as easy as first thought as early indications suggest Apoel Nicosia may not be the cannon fodder anticipated. The Cypriot champions are struggling at home but knocked out Partizan Belgrade and Copenhagen to reach the group stages and held Atletico Madrid to a draw in their opening group game.
"It won't be an easy game but we have to return to playing well," said Ancelotti. "Against Wigan it was not a good day. I want to see a good reaction. I want to see Chelsea play like in previous matches this season."
Last year, under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Chelsea began with similar panache then dipped badly. It is not a comparison Ancelotti was prepared to consider. "I don't want to know what happened last season. I am focused on this season. We lost one game, that can happen. We have to fix it for the next game."
According to Malouda they are in the mood to do so. "Everybody spoke at half-time at Wigan. It wasn't a performance of the level we expect and we were all angry. When you lose that way nobody can be happy. We spoke and now we have the opportunity to respond.
"Against Wigan we were late, we reacted instead of acting. Even if we are a good team, if we don't put all the ingredients in we won't win. If you're not prepared for that, you can have trouble against any team."
Ancelotti is not in a position to use selection as a management tool as his options are severely limited by injury and suspension. Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba are still banned, Michael Ballack and John Obi Mikel are injured while Joe Cole and Deco are fit only to start on the bench. Ashley Cole will not be risked if there is any danger of aggravating his knee injury so Yuri Zhirkov is in line for a debut. Suddenly Ancelotti's squad looks a bit thin.
Apoel coach Ivan Jovanovic also has injury worries, which means a likely role for former Chelsea player Nuno Morais who had a brief spell at the Bridge. The Portuguese's most notable game was as a substitute in the Champions League in Munich – the match in which Jose Mourinho smuggled himself into the dressing room to outwit a Uefa ban. "Jose is special, a fantastic coach – but it was different seeing him hiding in the skip," said Morais.
Mourinho, incidentally, came to Cyprus in this competition last season, with Internazionale. They scrambled a 3-3 draw with Anorthosis Famagusta. Chelsea should win tonight, but they cannot afford to repeat Saturday's complacency.Reuse content