The reform of the rules of the Champions League a few years ago has hit hard the small nations in UEFA in particular. While large federations like the DFB can let four solid participants without qualification at the start, there are only five clubs, which can take just this rocky way through the quali, in order to be also in the group phase of the premier class. 20 teams are currently still at the start. So it’s almost the semi-finals – more precisely, the semi-final first leg.
Some well-known clubs such as FC Basel, last year’s semi-finalist Ajax Amsterdam, FC Porto or Celtic Glasgow are there. A duel, which at first glance does not shine the greatest splendor, but nevertheless highly exciting, takes place in Cyprus. APOEL Nicosia meets Qarabag Agdam and a prediction is a challenge especially for these relatively unknown teams. Even more difficult is the search for a good tip in this pairing, as both teams have not yet started in league play and thus only the previous qualifying games can be used as a guide.
It is immediately noticeable that in four matches the visitors have won only one, the hosts have not conceded a single goal in two matches. It is therefore hardly surprising that APOEL Nicosia and Qarabag Agdam’s odds for “under goals” are very low, suggesting a rather scoreless game.
The game is kicked off on Tuesday evening at 18:00. In this racy argument is not to be expected that even in the first leg of a preliminary decision. For both clubs, however, it’s about getting the best possible starting position. A little more under pressure are the hosts who want to present and have to back home with the fans.
APOEL Nicosia is the absolute Ligaprimus in the domestic league in Cyprus. Also in the last season, the team of coach Paolo Tramezzani again sovereign champions. The Italian success coach now takes aim at the big goal of the premier class with his protégés. This is not easy in preparation for the new season. In Cyprus, the first match day in the national league is due only at the end of August. Nevertheless, the competitive match in the last qualifying round against the representative from Montenegro was well done. FK Sutjeska Niksic had nothing to oppose in both matches and both the 1-0 away win, which already meant half the battle, as well as the following 3: 0 at home were a clear matter.
In the home game, the attacker Andrija Pantovic stood out, with a three-pack almost single-handedly ensured the safe entry into the semifinals. There, the first real challenge awaits the Tramezzani Elf. Especially at home, as in the past games, it is important to be very secure in the back. Against Niksic, the Cypriots in the summed up 180 minutes only allowed a full three shots to their goal. This good and consistent work against the ball is not self-evident in this early season phase. Special attention has already been paid in test matches such as the 1-0 against the top European team Shakhtar Donetsk and the wheels in the team seem to mesh quickly.
This is especially amazing, as defensively there was a lot of movement in the transfer market. Immediately four new actors were committed, including King transfer Vujadin Savic of Red Star Belgrade. The center-back finds himself in his role as a new defense boss apparently right now and brings a lot of stability in the team. If he and his colleagues perform similarly in the match between APOEL Nicosia and Qarabag Agdam on Tuesday, a tip on the hosts is definitely a good idea.
Qarabag Agdam has already made the leap into the group stage of the Champions League and is dreaming of mastering this trick again. The club had to go one round before the current opponent in the qualification and met in the second round on Partizani Tirana from Albania. In the first leg, the squad of head coach Qurban Qurbanov, who has been leading the game for many years, contented himself with a goalless draw to move home with a 2-0 home win. The course of the next duel with the Dundalk FC was similar. Away there was again a draw (this time 1: 1).
At home, the Azerbaijani team did not give the Irish team a 3-0 chance. Foreign forward Jaime Romero made early for the leadership of the home side, which was then administered managed long time. When the guests had to increase the risk in the closing stages, Qarabag struck twice more and Romero managed to double a double. After 90 minutes, the shot put ratio was 25: 3, which illustrates the dominance of the home side. Defensive remained the Qurbanov-Elf for the second time in a row without conceding.
The defensive stability is now being put to the test in Nicosia for the first time. Especially at home and in the first leg, the guests will probably initially act very carefully and put their focus on the work against the ball. However, an away goal would be incredibly valuable, which is why it will be exciting to see how brave the underdog is in the course of the match.
Similar to the Cypriots, Qarabag Agdam has the problem that the newly formed team still lacks a bit of practice practice. Although the team was able to complete at least four competitive matches in this constellation, but of course all the automatisms can not work there yet. In addition, the coach has to rebuild compared to the return match against Dundalk in the headquarters. Filip Ozobic was injured in the first round, had to be substituted and will miss the first leg on Tuesday. For him will probably take over as the Irish, the Spaniard Dani Quintana the role of the game designer. The 32-year-old veteran has a lot of experience, which can not hurt in such a heated duel.