APOEL FC president Phivos Erotokritou was delighted at the prospect of taking on Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals after Friday's draw in Nyon – and while he admitted the odds were stacked against his team, he said the Cypriot champions would give it their best shot.
"Madrid are the biggest club in Europe," said Erotokritou. "For us it is an honour just to be here, and it's an honour to have the chance to play Real. Especially the first game as it's in Cyprus – the whole of Cyprus will be there watching the game. It's really something exceptional. We know we don't have much chance, but whatever chance we do have, we'll try and take it as we have nothing to lose."
Few gave APOEL much chance of surviving a section featuring FC Zenit St Petersburg, FC Porto and FC Shakhtar Donetsk, and yet the side that had navigated two qualifying rounds and a play-off won the group to become the first Cypriot team to contest the round of 16. Now, the conquerors of Albania's KS Skënderbeu on 13 July are entering the realms of fantasy.
"We have done fantastically," added Erotokritou. "It has been a dream for us, but all dreams must come to an end at some point – that's life. But we'll try to get as much as possible out of this game. We've done something exceptional, something that can never happen again. But for us it has been an exceptional year. The experiences we have had, the fantastic people we have met, the teams we have seen, the way other people play football, it has been just fantastic."
So can APOEL pull off another small miracle? "Why not? It's 11 against 11. There's a gulf in the level of experience and quality but you never know. I am sure the players will want to win even more, now that they know who they are playing. They have never had the chance to play against such teams before. Sometimes enthusiasm and will to win can bridge the gap."
Madrid's director of institutional relations Emilio Butragueño made no attempt to hide his relief at the draw, yet for all his confidence, the former Merengues striker conceded that the first leg in Cypus would be a tough undertaking.
"There were some dangerous potential rivals in the pots that we wanted to avoid and managed to avoid," he said. "But that doesn't mean it will be an easy round. Any club that reaches the quarter-finals has already proved capable of performing at a very high level in this competition.
"Away from home, with the support of their fans, we have no doubt it will be a very tough game. The second leg is in the Santiago Bernabéu, our territory, so we are confident we will be in the semi-finals. But obviously APOEL deserve our full respect – they earned that on the pitch and we must be very careful."
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