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Jovanovič challenges APOEL to show they belong

APOEL FC coach Ivan Jovanovič says the Cypriot underdogs must prove they are at the level of their Group G rivals, starting against FC Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday.

APOEL came through three rounds to qualify for the group stage
APOEL came through three rounds to qualify for the group stage ©AFP

APOEL FC coach Ivan Jovanovič has warned his players against entertaining thoughts of qualification from Group G, stressing that two years after their group stage debut they must once again prove they belong on the UEFA Champions League stage through their performances. Whatever Jovanovič's words, visiting FC Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti expects a tough test for his team.

Coach Ivan Jovanovič

The feeling we have going into this game is the same as before any big match. Two years ago our first group game was our debut at this stage of the competition. This year we have a better idea of what lies ahead and I can say we will go into this match with more belief and confidence. We will try to perform as we always do – we will try to play good football and show we are deservedly at this level. But just because we have one Champions League group stage campaign under our belt doesn't mean we should believe we are up to the level of Porto, Shakhtar and Zenit and go about setting targets of qualification like the other three teams. We need to prove through our performances that we can give ourselves the target of qualifying from the group.

Weekend result
Saturday: APOEL 3-1 Alki Larnaca FC
(Oliveira 3, Elia 60, Solari 90+3; Firţulescu 85)
Kissas; Elia, Boaventura, Oliveira, Paulo Jorge; Pinto, Morais, Marcinho (Jahić 70), Manduca; Charalambides (Adorno 65), Aílton (Solari 78)

Team news
Midfielder Tijani Belaid has been on an individual training programme as he seeks to gain match fitness, but Jovanovič said "all the players are at my disposal". Defender Christos Kontis retired after a heart attack late last month.

Coach Luciano Spalletti
APOEL have some very good Portuguese players. Technically, they are very good on the ball and they have strong support here in Nicosia so we will need to produce a strong performance. I believe that the team that wants the win more will be celebrating at the end, and I expect an open game. I know about APOEL, and my players and I know what to expect. We have a job to do and we need to do it well. The Champions League did not come gift-wrapped for us. We had to work to get here. My players now have to show their strength. We have experience from previous European competitions and we must avoid the mistakes of the past.

Weekend result
Saturday: FC Lokomotiv Moskva 4-2 Zenit
(Obinna 46, Caicedo 61, Da Costa 76 88; Lazović 7, Bukharov 31)
Malafeev; Lombaerts, Hubočan (Rosina 80), Bruno Alves, Criscito; Denisov, Ionov, Fayzulin (Zyryanov 85), Danny; Bukharov, Lazović (Huszti 61)

Team news
Midfielder Sergei Semak has not featured since breaking his fifth metatarsal in July; however, winger Vladimir Bystrov is back after a knee ligament injury sustained in March and Spalletti was due to make a decision on his involvement after training on Monday.

Match fact
APOEL have never played a Russian side in UEFA competition and likewise this is Zenit's first European game against Cypriot opposition.