Ajax will look to take a step towards the Champions League group stages when they travel to Cyprus on Tuesday to face APOEL Nicosia in the first-leg of their playoff tie. Kick-off is at 8pm.

After a nervy tie in Amsterdam, Ajax eventually overcame PAOK Salonika to book their place in the playoff. Now, standing between Ajax and a return to the Champions League group stages are Cypriot champions APOEL Nicosia.

The two clubs have met before in the Champions League group stages back in the 2014/15 season. Ajax triumphed 4-0 in Amsterdam and got a 1-1 draw in Cyprus.

Erik ten Hag acknowledged that Ajax are favourites for the first-leg but is refusing to underestimate APOEL, “We are often favorites, but those are just reflections in advance. APOEL is a very ambitious club. They have just switched coaches, signed five new players and the expectations are high. But that is also the case with us. ”

At the weekend, Ajax went top of the Eredivisie on goal difference after a simple 4-1 victory over VVV Venlo.

Opponents, APOEL Nicosia haven’t started their league campaign yet but have already progressed through two qualifying rounds in the Champions League. Sutjeska were beaten 4-0 on aggregate, while APOEL had a trickier time with Qarabag, who won 2-1 in Cyrpus. However, APOEL won the away leg 2-0 to progress.

Coached by German Thomas Doll, APOEL Nicosia last appeared in the group stages of the Champions League back in the 2017/18 season, where they finished fourth in a group containing Tottenham, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.

On what he expects from APOEL, Ten Hag said, “They play very directly, with a lot of speed and physical strength. An aggressive team. We will have to adjust to that. Are they going to park the bus? If their trainer says so, then they will. We will be prepared for anything. They have a number of good players, but we will have to reach our level to cross this hurdle.”

Team News

Ajax head to Cyprus without Quincy Promes, who suffered a knock against VVV Venlo while Kasper Dolberg is on his way to OGC Nice.

Hakim Ziyech came off on Saturday but is fit to play along with Noussair Mazraoui.

Possible Ajax line-up: Onana, Mazraoui, Tagliafico, Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Marin, Van de Beek, Ziyech, Promes, Tadic

APOEL have several recognisable names in their squad including Dutchman Boy Waterman, who is the second choice goalkeeper. Former Heerenveen striker Reza Ghoochannejhad is also on the books, along with ex-NAC Breda midfielder Uros Matic. Midfielder Andre Vigal is on loan in Cyprus from Fortuna Sittard.

Possible APOEL Nicosia line-up: Belec, Merkis, Lafrance, Ioannou, Al Tamari, Mihajlovic, Gentsoglou, Matic, Bezjak, De Vincenti, Pavlovic

Odds

APOEL 13/2 Draw 7/2 Ajax 2/5

What to expect from the first-leg

Ajax head to Cyprus looking to take a big step towards the Champions League group stages. APOEL will probably sit deep and look to hit Ajax on the counter, so Ten Hag’s side will have to find a way through early on to get APOEL out of their shell.

On paper, Ajax are firm favourites for this tie and they should be too strong for APOEL. A win in Cyprus would be a huge boost for the Dutch side and their goal to return to the Champions League group stages.

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