APOEL FC face a massive task if they are to make it to the UEFA Europa League round of 32 this week as they visit Group F winners Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Nicosia club clinched a record 22nd domestic title this year, having become the first Cypriot side to reach the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals in 2011/12. However, becoming the first Cypriot team to get through a UEFA Europa League group stage looks a tall order. They can only progress if they prevail in Frankfurt and Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC lose at home to FC Girondins de Bordeaux by a margin that shifts the goal difference balance in APOEL's favour.
For coach Giorgos Donis, who replaced Paulo Sérgio at the GSP Stadium in October, the game will have an extra emotional charge, since it brings him back to the city of his birth. "It's an emotional thing to return to the place you were born," he told UEFA.com ahead of Thursday's must-win fixture. "I may only have lived there until I was six but my parents lived in Frankfurt for many years and there are still family ties there."
The 44-year-old Donis knows exactly what his side are up against. "Our last result [0-0 at home to Maccabi] has basically left us with a very slim chance of qualifying, but we will do whatever we can to get a result," he said. "The scenario is not a favourable one for us. We not only need to beat Eintracht but must also hope Maccabi lose at home against a Bordeaux side with nothing to play for in this group. So it is not just a question of us getting a big win in Germany."
Given that no Cypriot team has ever beaten a German club in Europe, Donis has a right to be discouraged. Nonetheless, the former Larissa FC, AEK Athens FC, Atromitos FC and PAOK FC coach has received plenty of credit for his work since arriving in Cyprus, whipping APOEL into shape after a skittish start. They are now four points off the First Division pace, in sixth place. 'The Train' – as he was once known – has his side very much back on track.
If winning in Frankfurt remains a huge assignment, Donis has achieved notable firsts before – the pacy winger was the first Greek player to appear in the English Premier League after leaving Panathinaikos FC for Blackburn Rovers FC in 1996. He is determined that, whatever happens on matchday six, his troops will not bow out without a fight. "These European games are always about prestige for the club, the players and the coaches," he said.
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