The Champions League. Europe’s elite competition. The caviar of footballing competition. The tournament everyone wants to be involved in. The Promised Land. Throwing up epic clashes between European powerhouses on a near-fortnightly basis. Guaranteed titanic tussles intended to send every football fan into a fevered state of over-excitement. Games like Bayern Munich V Juventus (wow!), Real Madrid V Marseille (not as impressive but still, pretty good!), and of course, Athletikos Podosferikos Omilos Ellinon Lefkosias V Chelsea (…guh?).

Athletikos Podosf…or to make things easier, APOEL of Cyprus, are one of those Lenny Pidgeley type characters just along for the ride (Imagine now, if you will, the back-up back-up ‘keeper clearly in shot during the lifting of our second Premier League trophy and there you have the perfect metaphor for teams like APOEL.) They are just in the competition purely to make up the numbers, pick up a healthy profit from the television companies, and help to keep up the pretence of a level playing field across Europe. If the Pidgeley comparison fails, try thinking of APOEL as this year’s Cluj. Hopefully without the 0-0 draw away from home obviously.

APOEL have a website which is entirely written in Greek. Consequently, this makes it very difficult for lazy English preview writers to obtain any relevant information about the club. A quick glimpse at the site reveals that APOEL may or may not have won 3-0 at the weekend or in the week, and that they may or may not have a player who does a backflip to celebrate or commiserate a goal. They also may or may not be in seventh place in the Cypriot league. Can I get away with saying, ‘it’s all Greek to me’? What is for sure is the fact that APOEL held Athletico Madrid to a goalless draw in Spain on matchday one.

APOEL do have a familiar face within their ranks though. Familiar in the sense of, ‘hey didn’t he play for Chelsea four times?’ And yes, Nuno Morais did manage to take the field in a Chelsea shirt four times between 2004 and 2007. With his boyband good looks and…not much else really, Morais has not been sorely missed.

Unfortunately my limited knowledge of APOEL ends with this paragraph, and it’s superfluous to say the least. The Cypriot side knocked my Killyleagh (Northern Irish minnows) team out of the two-legged Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round recently on Football Manager 2009. And yes, it still hurts.

Pain was the overriding emotion following Chelsea’s defeat to Wigan Athletic on Saturday, when a group of strangers arrived at the DW Stadium in Chelsea shirts and incredibly detailed masks, and contrived to lose 3-1. With the perfect start to the season eradicated in one haphazard period of ninety minutes, Carlo Ancelotti will be looking to bounce back immediately in Cyprus.

Didier Drogba and José Bosingwa are still suspended following their punishments under UEFA’s ‘Freedom of speech?…Never heard of it,’ rule, while John Obi Mikel and Michael Ballack have reportedly not travelled with the squad, as they are carrying slight knocks. Ashley Cole left the game early on Saturday with an injury, but he has made the journey along with Joe Cole and Deco – who are available for contention once again.

The 1-0 win over Porto on matchday one was tight to say the least, and we could be in for more of the same despite APOEL’s lowly status in European football. A repeat of the Wigan performance would be absolutely disastrous, and would belie the oft-uttered statement that it was, ‘just a blip.’

APOEL’s players shouldn’t be over-awed, and have more to gain than just three points. A win for them would be a major scalp, and pretty much contradict everything written in this preview. But it can’t happen.

Can it?

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