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History beckons for Cypriot football

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Cyprus football is bracing for another historic night, as three of its top clubs are well placed for a spot in the Europa League group stage.

Champions Apollon Limassol, runners-up AEK Larnaca and Cup Winners Omonia Nicosia have made their way to the Europa League’s playoffs, with the latter favourites to qualify on Thursday.

Omonia Nicosia and AEK Larnaca pulled off a surprise away wins in the first leg of the playoffs and will now seek to capitalise on home advantage.

Last week, Omonia Nicosia beat Belgian side KAA Gent, 2-0, while AEK secured a 2-1 win over Ukrainian SC Dnipro 1 in Slovakia.

At 7 pm, the Larnaca team welcome Dnipro to the ‘ARENA’, shielding their 2-1 away win.

Last week, AEK took a 2-0 lead with goals from Israeli Omri Altman and Bosnian Hrvoje Milicevic, but Dnipro scored a late goal in the 90th minute with Oleksandr Pikhalyonok.

With no prior European experience, the Ukrainian team had to overcome not playing since December, when the Ukrainian season ended.

Ukraine’s championship only began this week due to Russia’s invasion in February.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian teams have always performed well in European tournaments, with Shakhtar Donetsk winning the Europa League (then UEFA Cup) in 2008-2009.

The Larnaca club started their campaign in the Champions League second qualifying round as the runner-up in the league but could not see off Danish FC Midtjylland.

They lost in a penalty shootout after both games finished 1-1.

Omonia

At 8 pm, Omonia host Belgian side KAA Gent.

With their surprise win in Belgium last week, Omonia has the upper hand, with the club set to seal another historic qualification.

Omonia, led by the former Celtic player and coach Neil Lennon, escaped from the Ghalamco Arena in Gent with a two-goal cushion.

The Greens shocked the Belgians with an early goal on 20 minutes by 19-year-old Charalampos Charalambous, followed by a goal from Brandon Barker, who joined the club in the summer from Reading.

Apollon

The Limassol team has the toughest task of the three teams as they face Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus.

The first game in Nicosia ended in a 1-1 tie, with Apollon needing a top performance to knock out the Greek champions at their home ground, known for its hostile atmosphere.

Apollon had a tough task, as the Greek champions are more experienced in Europe and have a much bigger budget.

Olympiakos’ squad is worth a whopping €117.5 mln, according to Transfermarkt.com, while Apollon’s squad is worth €16.5 mln.

Champions Apollon started their European campaign from the third qualifying tie of the Champions League but failed to overcome Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa.

The game starts at 10 pm.

Meanwhile, a fourth team representing Cyprus in European football, APOEL Nicosia, was left out of the Conference League group stage despite winning 3-2 against Swedish Djurgårdens IF.

However, their 3-0 away defeat in Sweden made things difficult.

Should Apollon, Omonia and AEK Larnaca be successful in the Europa League playoffs, they are guaranteed €5 mln each from their endeavours.