Surprise package APOEL to take on Spanish giant Real Madrid

Surprise package APOEL to take on Spanish giant Real Madrid

NYON, Switzerland - Reuters
Surprise package APOEL to take on Spanish giant Real Madrid

Apoel’s players celebrate after winning their UEFA Champions League football match against Olympique Lyonnais at the GSP Stadium in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on March 7, 2012. AFP PHOTO

Rank outsider APOEL Nicosia, taking Greek Cypriot football into unchartered territory, was handed on Friday a glamorous tie against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals as the club continued what chairman Phivos Erotocritou described as “a dream.”

Titleholder Barcelona will have to again face seven-time winner AC Milan after a draw which also cleared the way for a final against its eternal rival Real Madrid.

Bayern Munich, whose 7-0 demolition of FC Basel in the last 16 made it another team to be feared, must overcome Olympique Marseille if the club wants to keep up hopes of reaching the May 19 final in its own Allianz Arena.

The four-time champions would then have to face nine-time winner Real, assuming the Spaniards avoid an upset defeat by APOEL, in the semifinals.

The winner of the Barcelona and Milan tie will take on Chelsea or Benfica, the Portuguese side trying to recapture past glories, after they were paired in the other two legged quarterfinal to be played this month and next.

APOEL has already surpassed expectations by becoming the first Cypriot team to reach the last eight and Erotocritou was reluctant to predict an even greater upset than the Round-of-16 elimination of Olympique Lyon.

“We have beaten teams like Zenit (St Petersburg), like Porto, we will try,” he said. “I know chances are minimal but we have got quality players and we will give it a try.

“It has been a fantastic dream but maybe the dream is getting near to the end.”

He said record nine-time winner Real would face an atmosphere in the first leg in Nicosia that even APOEL officials found too frenzied.

“Unfortunately, it is too passionate to be honest, sometimes we suffer because of that. But this is how we are,” Erotocritou added.

Former Real striker and current director Emilio Butragueno said: “APOEL have been a wonderful surprise for everyone. We have to be extremely respectful, they are a good team.

“With the support of their crowd it’s going to be very difficult for us, we have to be focused on every detail. You never know in football.”

Barça and Milan, who met in the 1994 final which the Italians won 4-0, have already clashed in the group stage this season with a 2-2 draw at Nou Camp followed by a 3-2 win for the Catalans at San Siro in a match where both teams had already qualified.

“If you want to be champion of Europe you have to beat the best and Milan is without doubt among them,” Barça coach Pep Guardiola told reporters in Spain.

“Milan has seven European Cups on their curriculum, all their players are of exceptionally high quality and it will be a very tough tie.

“They are an excellent team in every way, very strong defensively and with quality in midfield and up front that is extremely high. Their players have come through a great number of battles and they know what they are about.”

Led by 12-goal Lionel Messi, the Catalans will visit San Siro for the first leg on March 29 as they continue their attempt to become the first side since Milan in 1990 to defend their European crown.
Milan director Umberto Gandini told reporters: “It was pretty much evenly balanced when we met in the group stage.

“We drew away and we lost in Milan with a strange penalty, I know they will not be happy to play us.”
Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Nou Camp, which he left in acrimonious circumstances, will add further spice to the meeting.