NICOSIA - APOEL boss Ivan Jovanovic will be hoping to finally “sleep easy” on Saturday night with his side needing to beat AEK Larnaca to clinch this season’s league title.
The Nicosia club defeated the Larnaca 1-0 last weekend to move eight points clear of second place Anorthosis and Jovanovic knows his side would put the title race to bed with another win in what is expected to be a full house on Saturday at the GSP Stadium.
Sunday will Omonia take on Anorthosis in Nicosia. Last weekend, both sides battled out a 0-0 draw in Larnaca.
“Until we have mathematically secured the league title, I will not sleep easy”, the 50-year-old coach told reporters. “These are not just words; this is the reality of the situation. My players deserve to cap off the season as champions. We have worked really hard and this has always been our number one priority. Winning the league title has been my only thought 24 hours per day.”
Victory will hand Jovanovic his fourth league title in his combined seven seasons at the club whilst at the same time present the club its 22nd league title success.
But the Greek-Serbian boss is not looking too far ahead arguing that beating their opponents should be only thing on his players’ minds.
“If we are to achieve our target, we have to play well and we have to beat AEK. We have 90 minutes of very hard work in front of us.”
APOEL defender Christos Karipidis was also calling for fans to put the Champaign on ice arguing that nothing is over in terms of the title race. “This is not a fiesta. Nothing is over. We need to remain grounded and determined. We need to be ready for a fierce battle if we want to clinch the three points against AEK.”
Jovanovic has been credited with turning around APOEL’s fortunes this season after a stumbling start that saw them fall off the pace in the league title race and suffer shock exits in the Europa League playoffs and the Cyprus Coca-Cola Cup third round at the hands of Neftchi Baku and AEL respectively.
The criticism came in thick and fast, even from the club’s own fans, but things have now swung in the Nicosia club’s favour although the big question over whether Jovanovic will leave the club in the summer remains a big question.
Media reports suggest that negotiations over his contract extension have gone cold in light of across-the-board pay cuts at the club. Jovanovic once again dodged questions over his future instead preferring to focus on his commitment to the club he led to the quarterfinals of the Champions League last season.
“APOEL is a large and beautiful part of my life. It’s difficult for me to be involved in this term purely on a professional level.”
Should APOEL clinch the league title as expected, they will enter the Champions League third qualifying round instead of the usual second round start as was the case in previous years.
APOEL’s UEFA coefficient also means that they will be seeded in both the third qualifying round and the playoffs should they go through.
A victory for APOEL in the third qualifying round in late July would guarantee them a place in the Europa League group stage regardless of what happens in the Champions League playoffs.
A defeat in the third qualifying round, however, would see them drop into the Europa League playoffs.