Tottenham play AEL Limassol of Cyprus in Larnaca in the 1st leg of the Europa League Play-off Round. Spurs will be hoping for a positive result to ease any pressure ahead of next week’s return game at White Hart Lane.
This will be the second time Tottenham have been involved in a competitive match in Cyprus. They drew 1 – 1 with Anorthosis Famagusta in 2007 in the 1st Round (2nd leg) of the UEFA Cup. Spurs qualified for the Group stages, winning 7 – 2 on aggregate.
In May, 1968 Spurs travelled to Cyprus for an end of season tour, playing four games. They defeated AEL Limassol 7 – 1 on that occasion, the only time the two clubs have met previously. It was a near full strength team which played and the goals were scored by Alan Gilzean (3), Cliff Jones (2), Dennis Bond and Jimmy Robertson.
Team: Jennings; Kinnear, Want; Collins, England, Pearce; Jones, Venables, Bond, Greaves (Robertson), Gilzean
AEL Limassol are playing in their second European campaign since 2012. Prior to that the club had played in Europe on 5 occasions between 1968 and 2003. In their European debut Limassol were drawn against Real Madrid in the European Cup and lost both games 6 – 0. Their best result were a 2 – 2 draw against Dulka Prague in 1985 and a 2 – 1 win over Ferencvaros in 2002.
On their return to European tournaments in 2012, Limassol progressed through the early qualifying rounds of the Champions League but were knocked out by Anderlecht in the Play-of Round. They won 2 – 0 in the 1st leg but went out 3 – 2 on aggregate. Limassol dropped into the Europa League group stages and although finishing 4th in a tough group with Marseilles, Ferencvaros and Borussia Mönchengladbach, they defeated Marseilles and drew with Borussia.
This season they qualified for the Champions League and created a shock in the last qualifying round with a 1 – 0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg in the 1st leg in Cyprus but lost 3 – 0 in the second game. SkySports reported that the AEL Limassol manager, Ivaylo Petev, is confident that his side can pull off an upset against Spurs.
Mauricio Pochettino is mindful that the Europa League takes on greater significance this season as it is a gateway to next year’s Champions League for the victorious team in May. In his pre-match press conference, he referred to this in his remarks saying,
The Europa League now gives the possibility to play in the Champions League. With that change, it’s a more interesting competition.
In his first match as a manager in a European competition, Pochettino is not taking anything for granted. His comments were reported by the Evening Standard, he said,
We expect a tough game. They made it difficult for Zenit to progress in the Champions League.
The Spurs players are aware of the importance of the Europa League. Speaking to the club website, Mousa Dembele who is in the squad for the first time since returning from the World Cup said,
It will be difficult game. We can’t underestimate Limassol. It’s going to be very important for us to get through to the Group Stage.
Tottenham have taken a strong squad to Cyprus, even though some players did not travel – Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) a sports journalist for the Press Association reported on Twitter that Emmanuel Adebayor, Christian Eriksen, Younes Kaboul, Aaron Lennon and Etienne Capoue had not been included in the party. Kyle Walker and Vlad Chiriches are also absent due to injury while Michel Vorm wasn’t registered for the play-off round.
The players who returned late from the World Cup but haven’t played any matches are all part of the squad – Paulinho, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli.
Sandro has also travelled. A number of those players can expect to get time on the pitch to aid them in their build up to match fitness.
He also revealed that Pochettino isn’t happy with the condition of the pitch in Larnaca. He tweeted,
Tottenham 21-man squad is:
Lloris, Friedel, McGee, Naughton, Dawson, Vertonghen, Dier, Davies, Rose, Velkjovi, Carroll, Bentaleb, Sandro, Paulinho, Dembele, Lamela, Chadli, Townsend, Holtby, Kane, Soldado
Any result other than a Tottenham win will be disappointing given the strength of the squad but Limassol have shown that they are capable of creating a surprise. Spurs don’t want the laugh to be on them.