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APOEL meeting fires up Lombaerts

"Surprised" by APOEL FC on matchday one, FC Zenit St Petersburg's Nicolas Lombaerts is relishing the chance to set the record straight when the top two in Group G go head to head.

Nicolas Lombaerts expects a better result than when Zenit first met APOEL
Nicolas Lombaerts expects a better result than when Zenit first met APOEL ©Getty Images

FC Zenit St Petersburg's match-winner last time out in the UEFA Champions League, Nicolas Lombaerts is savouring the prospect of taking on APOEL FC in a meeting of the top two in Group G.

Leading Wednesday's opponents by a point, surprise pacesetters APOEL began what has thus far been a fairy-tale campaign by defeating Zenit 2-1 on matchday one. However, a home win at a chilly Petrovski Stadion would not only enable the Russian league leaders to leapfrog their opponents, but also secure their place in the last 16, provided FC Porto fail to beat FC Shakhtar Donetsk.

With memories of that reverse − Zenit's last in any competition, 13 matches ago − in Cyprus still fresh in the memory, Lombaerts wants his team-mates to play the game, not the occasion. "It is one of those games that everyone dreams of playing in," said the defender, who headed the only goal against Shakhtar three weeks ago. "It is important we play good football from the first minute. Yes, some people may see this match as a chance for revenge, but our focus is on reaching the next round."

The loss in Nicosia was a shock to the system for Luciano Spalletti's men, who were sitting pretty courtesy of Konstantin Zyryanov's 63rd-minute goal until Manduca and Aílton turned the game on its head in the closing stages. "We were surprised by APOEL's style," conceded the Belgian international. "They play beautiful combinations and attacking football. I can only hope that APOEL's lead at the top of the group only lasts until tomorrow."

APOEL, though, can become the first Cypriot team to reach the last 16 by winning in a stadium where Zenit have prevailed in their last nine European fixtures. With history tantalisingly within reach for the visitors, a draw might even suffice, and Lombaerts is not expecting Ivan Jovanović's men to be quite as expansive as they are in the confines of their GSP Stadium.

"I can't read their coach's mind, but for sure their tactics will be different away from home," said the 26-year-old. "I don't know whether they will play defensively or not, but we are ready for this. A lot of teams in the Russian championship play this way against us and sometimes it brings them success, sometimes not. All the same — APOEL can play attacking football, and they will want to score goals, like any team does at the Petrovski."