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Plucky Achnas defy expectations

Regardless of the outcome of their UEFA Cup first-round tie against RC Lens, Ethnikos Achnas FC are certain to make Cypriot footballing history this season.

Regardless of the outcome of their UEFA Cup first-round tie against RC Lens, Ethnikos Achnas FC are certain to make Cypriot footballing history this season.

Improbable campaign
Not even the club's most optimistic fans would have anticipated the kind of campaign they have had. Now the island's sole survivor in UEFA competition, they have eclipsed their bigger local rivals. The second leg of their second qualifying round tie against KSV Roeselare was Achnas's eighth European appearance this term and, with Lens to come, they will equal APOEL FC's 2002/03 run when they played ten games in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup.

Two doubles
Following UEFA Intertoto Cup successes against FK Partizani (Albania), NK Osijek (Croatia) and Maccabi Petach-Tikva FC (Israel), the manner of their qualification against Belgian UEFA Fair Play beneficiaries Roesalare was impressive indeed. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Achnas won 5-0 at home with two goals apiece for Christos Poyiatzis and Zoran Stjepanović, and one from new signing Milan Belić, to complete their biggest continental win. It was the first time a Cypriot side had knocked out Belgian opponents. Coach Toza Sapurić said: "Everyone has to be congratulated for this victory. To win in Europe is one thing, but to win 5-0 is something special, no matter what the opposition.

'Holiday in the sun'
"We have worked very hard to get where we are so I am pleased for the players that all the hard work has paid off," he added. "The bigger teams we have played have been coming to Cyprus hoping to get a couple of days' holiday in the sun. I hope for our sake they carry on thinking this way." Should Lens fall victim too, Achnas will become the first Cypriot team to qualify for the group stage of a UEFA tournament. Assistant coach Spyros Kastanas told uefa.com: "At this stage, any team we got would have been difficult. All the clubs in the hat were, on paper at least, much stronger than us. Lens are without doubt the favourites but we will give our all and whatever happens, happens. At this stage, everything is a bonus."

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