Two clubs that are contrasts in every shape and form will meet in the Champions League quarterfinals. Tiny APOEL Nicosia from Cyprus will square off with Spanish giants Real Madrid in what appears to be a colossal mismatch.
Just how different are they? As different as day and night. Consider. APOEL are in the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in club history. Real Madrid have won the European Cup a record 9 times. More than any other club in Europe. APOEL get by on a shoestring budget. Real Madrid are one of the richest clubs on the planet. APOEL are from a country that has never qualified for the World Cup or the European Championships. Real Madrid are from a country that are the defending World Cup and Euro title holders. The home stadium for APOEL, GSP stadium seats a mere 22,859 patrons. The Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid holds 85,454 fanatics and is one of the most intimidating venues in futbol. APOEL have players that are unknown to most casual fans. Real Madrid are loaded with stars, and are endowed with some of the best players in the World.
Still, credit must be given to APOEL for getting this far in the competition, and there is quality on this side. Brazilian striker Ailton is an efficient marksman, tallying 3 goals in the competition. Partnering up front with Ailton, is Macedonian International Ivan Trickovski who has struggled to find the back of the net in the Champions League, but is creative and enterprising.
The midfield is escorted by Brazilian Gustavo Manduca. The crafty, attacking midfielder has 3 goals in the competition and sets the pace and tactics for APOEL. The rest of the midfield is more pragmatic, with Nuno Morais and Consantinos Charlambides playing in position at the centre of the field.
The back four has been sturdy in their defence. This isn’t a flashy group but they are difficult to penetrate. Two Brazilians, Marcelo Oliveira and William Boaventura along with Portuguese International Paulo Jorge and Cyprus International Savvas Poursaitides are the backbone of the club.
In goal is where uncertainty lies. APOEL have used two keepers in the competition, sometimes alternating from game to game. Greek International Dionsios Chiotis, and Urko Pardo share the duties, however one will need to step up if APOEL have any hope of going through to the semi finals.
It will be a tall order as Real Madrid are simply stacked at every positions. This despite the fact Los Blancos will be without the services of the suspended Xabi Alonso and injured Lasanna Diarra. Manager Jose Mourinho is a tactical genius, so he will be diligent on tactics without principal components.
It is also worth noting Cristiano Ronaldo can make the difference up almost single-handedly. The Portuguese superstar leads the club with 45 goals in all competitions including 6 in the Champions League. His versatility is vital for Real Madrid as he can line up as a pure striker, winger, or as an attacking midfielder. A creator, and a venomous finisher, Ronaldo is almost impossible to contain when he’s playing up to potential.
The most frightening aspect of all this is, Ronaldo isn’t alone. French International Karim Benzema, and Argentine International Gonzalo Higuain are strikers of high acclaim, notching 25 and 23 goals respectively in all competitions. Benzema in particular has been lethal in the Champions League with 5 goals while Higuain has put 3 to the back of the net.
While Alonso will be missed in the midfield, he will be capably relieved by German International Mesut Ozil. Despite having only 3 goals in all competitions, Ozil is an imaginative resource, who provides service and acumen. Sami Khedira is an exemplary holding midfielder who can attack when needed. It is possible that Kaka may see the pitch with Alonso’s banishment, but that decision won’t be made until matchday.
The back four sometimes lags but when they want to, are astute. Portuguese International Ricardo Carvalho will likely miss the first leg due to injury so expect the underachieving Alvaro Arbeloa to start at right back. Sergio Ramos will move to the centre along with Pepe. Fabio Coentrao should start at left back.
In goal, perhaps the best keeper in the world, Iker Casillas. A tall rangy goalie with incredible athleticism, Casillas is incredibly difficult to beat and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Prediction: On paper this is a mismatch and I think it will be on the pitch as well. APOEL are just happy to be in the quarterfinals while Real Madrid desperately want to win a 10th European Cup. First leg may be close only because it is in Cyprus but when it returns to the Bernabeu, Real Madrid will steamroll their way to the semi-finals.
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