Constantinos Charalambides speaks about the "phenomenal" effect APOEL FC's UEFA Champions League adventure has had on his homeland and the "magical team spirit" at the club.
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In only their second ever UEFA Champions League campaign APOEL FC have become the pride of the Cypriot nation by reaching the knockout phase for the first time. However, despite upsetting the odds to come so far, lifelong supporter and captain Constantinos Charalambides sees no reason why his side cannot continue their adventure at the expense of Olympique Lyonnais on Tuesday. "The open style of play suits us," the 30-year-old said. "I'm convinced we can do to Lyon exactly what we did in our group to Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto and Zenit."
As captain of the side can you tell us what this match means for the city?
Constantinos Charalambides: It's huge. Everyone here lives and breathes this club. I experience it every day; you meet friends on the street wherever you go. APOEL are a Greek phenomenon. They are a topic of discussion at homes, schools and work for the everyday Cypriot. It's not just the fans who are following the team now, but everyone. Cypriots play a lot of football due to our success and that of other Cypriot teams over the last few years and we have done a lot for Cypriot football.
What are the factors behind APOEL's success?
Charalambides: It's the great chemistry we have in the team – we share the same ambitions. There are good kids here, great characters and very good professionals, people who believe in their coaches. There is a magical team spirit that comes naturally from the manager. There is belief. We believe in our team, we believe in our coaches and we believe we can do something in Europe; and that shows in our results. We don't have an inferiority complex. We played against really difficult teams but we went through thanks to good preparation before our matches and we are definitely making less mistakes.
Were you a fan as a young boy?
Charalambides: Yes. I have been an APOEL fan since I was born because my family were. I have always wanted to play for this team. I was eight when I started playing in the academy in 1989 and here we are today.
Has APOEL's success put Nicosia on the map?
Charalambides: Definitely, I don't think anything has caught the attention of Europe as much as this. For a small team from Nicosia to be in the public eye of Europe has shown that Cyprus can succeed. Four or five years ago, no one could have picked out Cyprus or APOEL on a map of Europe, so our success is one future generations will look back on and appreciate.
What are your thoughts about Lyon?
Charalambides: We knew that whichever team we faced would be difficult, and have a Champions League history. They are clearly a bigger club than us with a much bigger budget and better footballers but that doesn't mean anything as we have shown that a small team can reach the knockout stage of the competition and do just as well in this next stage. I am convinced we can do to Lyon exactly what we did in our group to Shakhtar, Porto and Zenit. I believe in this team and with the right approach and a little bit of luck, why not?
How difficult is it to make the step up in quality to the UEFA Champions League?
Charalambides: It's quite difficult because the Champions League is nothing like the Cypriot league. The games are of far higher quality and you give much more on the pitch. For us at APOEL it is different because in the Cypriot league we tend to keep our defence tight and we need to open up our opponents. In the Champions League, you are playing against much bigger teams who want to attack; you need to combat this and yet still play your own game. But I think that a game in which both defenders and attackers have to move around a lot suits us. It's how we prefer to play. I think this is why we have been successful. We like these open games and that's how we will need to play again.