Apollon Limassol LFC caused one of the great upsets in female football by knocking Umeå IK out of the UEFA Women's Champions League – and now they are aiming to repeat the trick against Zvezda-2005.
Christakis Christoforou's side were fourth seeds in their qualifying round group in August but at home in Cyprus won all three of their games convincingly – including 4-1 against two-time European champions Umeå. Russia's Zvezda, whom Apollon welcome to the Tsirion Stadium for their round of 32 first leg on Wednesday, will present another stiff challenge having been 2008/09 runners-up. But forward Andreea Laiu is ambitious to achieve more.
"Our objective is to obviously go as far as we can in this tournament," Laiu told UEFA.com. "It's a great accomplishment to be in the last 32 of the Champions League. We work hard to stay fit so we can always be on top of our game." Laiu is one of nine Romanians at the club, and the 24-year-old explained: "One of the reasons we were brought here was to help raise the level of football at Apollon but also in Cyprus. We have already seen an improvement because the standard is much higher now than before. The fact that we are in the last 32 of the Champions League says a lot."
Her compatriot Alexandra Iusan was joint-top scorer in the qualifying round with five goals, and the speedy playmaker is delighted to have come of age in the competition, having only struck once in 21 European games previously for former club CFF Clujana. "It's great to have scored so many goals," the 22-year-old said. "In the last six years in Europe, I hardly scored so to get five in the qualifying group stage is brilliant. It would be a dream come true for me to finish top scorer in this tournament."
Alongside the Romanians, Apollon's cosmopolitan squad also boasts Bulgarian pair Liliana Kostova and Petya Petkova, and Swedish midfielder Vlora Bajraktaraj. But there is plenty of local talent too in Christiana Solomou – still in school but already regarded as a star of the future at just 17 – captain Margarita Sofocleous and Eleni Solomou. They have won two Cypriot doubles in a row, and now have set their sights on the European title. "It may be difficult to win the trophy but in football nothing is ever impossible," said Iusan.
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