Defending champions Real Madrid open their Champions League looking to win the trophy for a record, third straight year as Zidane’s team go in search of a unique, double-treble with six titles up for grabs – two of them,
the Spanish and European Super Cups, already sitting proud of place in the Bernabéu trophy room .
APOEL’s ambitions will be a little less lofty than their hosts – but if they could enjoy a repeat run of their best campaign in the competition when they reached the quarter finals in 2012, only to be knocked out by Madrid, then they will be more than happy.
APOEL have been on and off in Europe since making their debut in 2002-3 qualifying rounds of the
Champions League. They entered the group stage for the first time in 2009-10, beating seasoned campaigners Partizan in the Play-offs. But with
Chelsea, Atlético Madrid and Porto in their group, it proved a struggle for the debutants who bowed out at the group stage.
Giorgos Dinos’ troops made the group stage after defeating Romanian side Viitorul then Slavia Prague in the final two qualifying rounds and looked very convincing in their home legs in both of those ties. The Cypriots are no strangers the Bernabéu having played in the White House once previously – they lost that game 5-2 with Esteban Solari, brother of ex-madridista
Santiago, scoring from the spot. The only remaining players from the Madrid side from that time who are still at the club are Ramos, Varane, Marcelo, Cristiano and Benzema.
Real Madrid have had an unsettled start to the league campaign with Cristiano Ronaldo serving a five-match ban and a few injury and suspension problems. The team were held in Week 2 against Valencia and again at the weekend by newly-promoted Levante. Zidane fielded a changed side for that match, resting many of the players who had only recently returned from international duty. The Madrid coach is expected to continue with his rotation policy and could hand Dani Ceballos and Borja Mayoral minutes tonight.
Nicknamed Thrylos (Legend), APOEL go into the match after beating Nea Salamis 1-4 on the opening day of the
Cypriot league – a result which leaves them sixth in the table.
Real Madrid team news
Cristiano Ronaldo has one game to serve on his ban which doesn’t apply in European competition so he will almost certainly return to the line-up. The big headache for Zidane is who to field alongside him as Karim Benzema was forced out of the Levante game after suffering a hamstring injury and is out for the next four to six weeks . Keylor Navas, who returned from international duty with Costa Rica on Thursday last week, was rested at the week but should resume his place in the XI with Kiko Casilla returning to the bench. Other players who are expected to return to the side are Raphaël Varane, Casemiro and Luka Modric, all of who were rested at the weekend.
Man to watch: Cristiano. After missing the team’s first three league games, Cristiano will be champing at the bit and keen to make up for lost time against APOEL. He scored twice in the April 2012 meeting and will surely hope to add to his record tally of 105 goals in this competition. With Benzema sidelined he will be Madrid’s main man in attack and will probably be handed a free-roaming role with support from Isco and Bale.
APOEL team news
Midfield pair Facundo Bertoglio and George Efrem missed the Nea Salamis game and Sallai and Ghayas Zahid could start in their place. Bulgarian defender
Zhivko Milanov is also sidelined.
Man to watch: Igor de Camargo. The Brazilian is APOEL’s reference up front and was on target for the team twice on the opening day of the league. He has European pedigree from spells with Standard Liège,
Genk and Borussia Mönchengladbach and would love nothing more than to see the home team net billowing at the Bernabéu. He scored 12 goals in 28 appearances for the team last season. He can use both feet and has no qualms about shooting from distance.
Real Madrid-APOEL live online: possible line-ups
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kross, Modric, Isco, Bale, Cristiano.
APOEL: Waterman; Milanov, Rueda, Carlão, Lago; Vinicius, Morais, Zahid, Ebecilio, Aloneftis, De Camargo