AC Omonia captain Elias Charalambous has dismissed suggestions his side are under extra pressure to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage following the success of their Cypriot rivals over the past two years.
The Nicosia-based outfit are in Monday's draw for the second qualifying round having stormed to their first league title in seven years last month. Six games therefore separate them from the lucrative group stage, following a path trodden by Anorthosis Famagusta FC and, last season, APOEL FC. "Qualifying for the group stage is the target we have set and it would be a fantastic achievement if we made it through," Cyprus defender Charalambous told UEFA.com. "But I don't think it would be a failure if we didn't make it that far.
"It's still a very difficult process and a high target but one we have nonetheless set our sights on. What Anorthosis and APOEL achieved was great but
let's not forget that two years ago a Cypriot team qualifying for the group stage would have been unheard of." Indeed, Anorthosis became the Mediterranean island's first group-stage representatives in 2008/09, Temuri Ketsbaia's team beating Panathinaikos FC and holding both Werder Bremen (twice) and FC Internazionale Milano in a memorable campaign.
Last term APOEL picked up three draws, pipped to third and a UEFA Europa League place only on away goals in their head to head record with eventual winners Club Atlético de Madrid. Omonia, traditionally Cyprus's biggest side, have been forced to share the limelight. "There was tremendous pressure on us to win the league title last season," said Charalambous. "We are the biggest club in Cyprus and it was a shame our fans had to endure seven years without winning the biggest accolade on the island. So winning it in the end was a great feeling.
"We have a great squad with quality players both from Cyprus and abroad," added the 29-year-old. "Almost all our local players are Cypriot internationals but what I like about this club is the high standard of professionalism. Our coach [Takis Lemonis] is a perfectionist and looks into every single little detail.
There have been massive strides in Cypriot football. Our national team alone has shown they can look any big team in the eyes."
Omonia will learn their first opponents on Monday when the draws for the first two qualifying rounds of the competition are held at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland, from 12.00CET, with UEFA.com streaming it all live. The two-legged tie will be played on 13/14 and 20/21 July.
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