Hertha BSC Berlin are at home to APOEL Nicosia FC tonight in the second leg of their UEFA Cup second-round tie, holding not just a 1-0 lead but also the psychological advantage of their last-gasp victory in Cyprus.
Precious away goal
Bartosz Karwan struck the precious away goal 30 seconds from time to end APOEL's resistance and put Huub Stevens's men firmly in control of the tie. However, Hertha's form leaves something to be desired. Eighth in the 1. Bundesliga, they lost 3-0 at VfL Bochum at the weekend - putting even more pressure on the team to progress to the third round tonight.
"The team has to prove itself and respond to the defeat against Bochum with a convincing victory," Hertha's general manager, Dieter Hoeness, said. "We have to survive to the third round because of the financial implications. For that reason a victory against Nicosia is essential."
Defender Marko Rehmer is doubtful for the German club because of injury and migraine trouble, while Josip Šimunic, who has knee ligament damage, and Andreas Neuendorf, who is suspended after being sent off against Aberdeen FC in the last round, are definitely out.
Despite the setback at home, APOEL believe they have every chance of causing an upset. "We have shown this season that we can overcome the odds whether it be European opposition or injuries in the squad," said Cypriot international goalkeeper Michael Morphis. "We will have to rise to the occasion once again in Germany."
The Nicosia side have already set a record by becoming the first Cypriot club to survive in European competition for more than eight games. They narrowly missed out on the UEFA Champions League first group stage, reaching the third qualifying round before losing to AEK Athens FC, and are determined the run will not end this evening.
Key players injured
The Cypriot league leaders have not been without their problems though. Egen Gerard's side have had several key players injured, with inspirational captain Kostakis Malekkos, Armenian international Romik Khachatryan, Greek striker Georgos Vakouftsis and Hungarian forward Barnabas Sztipanovics all picking up knocks in recent games.
'Great fighting spirit'
"It is a miracle we have had such an excellent run given the problems we have had with injuries," coach Gerard said. "But that doesn't mean we will rely on those excuses. My players have shown great spirit and they can achieve great things." APOEL, however, are yet to win away from home in Europe this season - and will have to do just that if they are to prolong their continental adventure.
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