NICOSIA - APOEL boss Ivan Jovanovic says he is delighted that his side have “rediscovered that title winning form” as they prepare to take on title holders AEL in one the island’s two big games on Saturday.
The Nicosia club are currently snapping at the heels of Anorthosis who are enduring their worst from since the start of the domestic season. Up until last month, Ronny Levy’s side were just a handful of clubs boasting an unbeaten run of form in Europe but a shock reverse at Nea Salamina followed by a draw at Ethnikos Achnas and heavy back-to-back defeats against Omonia in the Cyprus Coca-Cola Cup means their lead has been slashed down to just three points.
The league leaders must now beat third place AEK while APOEL negotiate an equally tricky tie against fourth place AEL who this week secured an appeal victory to have their three-points reinstated in the ongoing Dosa Junior eligibility saga.
A 1-0 win away to AEK last weekend was APOEL’s first notable win of the season in the league and Jovanovic is relieved to see his team pick up the pace at the right time.
“Things got hard for us as many players got injured around January but the squad pulled together, worked hard and have rediscovered that title winning form”, he told reporters yesterday. “That is what pleases me the most. It is important to please the fans but our first priority must be winning the league title. For that to happen we need to be strong both mentally and physically.”
He added, “This is a very difficult game against the current champions. As always, it will be a very tough and an unpredictable encounter. The mood in the camp is the same as always. Obviously, a winning streak breeds confidence but we treat every game differently. Every game is important if we want to reach our target. I am positive my players will give their all.”
Anorthosis Famagusta are running out of time in their bid to stop their stuttering form as they take on AEK Larnaca at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium on Saturday.
Wednesday’s 2-0 home defeat to Omonia in the Cyprus Coca-Cola Cup quarterfinals was another stark reminder that his team’s run of form has stalled but Levy says his players should look at the game against AEK as a new beginning rather than crucial game arriving at the wrong time.
“There are times when you have to be strong to overcome tough moments”, the Israeli boss told reporters after Wednesday’s defeat that saw his side suffering an embarrassing 6-0 aggregate reverse at the hands of Omonia. “We need to stay united and that is what we will do. We believe in ourselves and are already waiting for Saturday’s game. This game presents to us a good chance to recapture our form and give our fans something to smile about again.”
With APOEL now just one point behind, critics of Levy claim the Anorthosis defenders are struggling to hold a strong line at the back but the former Steaua Bucharest coach, who will be without the injured Toni Calvo on Saturday, says the problem doesn’t lie solely in defense.
“I know who my main central defenders are but the Cup presented to us a chance to give other players a look in. Some things do still trouble me but not everything. I expect all my players to help with defending even those in attack. We still need work in some areas.”
Third place Ran Ben Shimon’s AEK have also been a team with an impressive start but who are now sliding down a downward slope. Their 1-1 draw away to Enosis Neon Paralimniou in the first leg of the Cup in midweek followed a 1-0 home defeat against APOEL.
A defeat against Anorthosis could see them drop down to fourth for the first time in months with AEL just one point behind them in the league standings.
The game at the Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium will also see the rare sight of two Israeli coaches at opposite ends outside of Israel.
Since 2007, Levy and Ben Shimon have put their wits against each other on six occasions with the Anorthosis boss having lost to Shimon.
The last meeting between the two took place earlier in the season with Levy once again getting the better of his compatriot as Anorthosis battled to a 3-2 victory at the GSZ Stadium.